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Liberia28 June 2002

A journalist accused of plotting against the President

Reporters Without Borders has expressed serious concern after the arrest of Hassan Bility, editor-in-chief of the private weekly The Analyst. "The newspaper is well known for its highly critical attitude towards President Charles Taylor, and we hope that the accusation plotting against the President is not a pretext for silencing a journalist who is virulently critical of those in power", said Robert Ménard, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders in a letter to Liberia’s Information Minister, Reginald Goodridge. "We are concerned that this is a witch hunt against journalists who criticise government policies", he added. Reporters Without Borders called on the minister to provide proof of the accusations as soon as possible, or to free Mr Bility.

Reporters Without Borders has learned that the editor-in-chief of The Analyst, was arrested by security agents on 24 June 2002. He is accused of collaborating with the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). According to the Information Minister, Mr Bility is a "central figure of those who have been running cells in Monrovia actively collaborating with LURD terrorists as well as their supporters in the United States of America". The authorities have announced that they have seized several e-mails sent or received by the journalist which they claim prove his links with the rebel group. A spokesperson for LURD, speaking from abroad, said that Mr Bility was "not a member of LURD, not even a sympathiser", adding that he was also highly critical of LURD.

Hassan Bility is being held on the premises of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Monrovia. Two other people, who have not been identified, have also been arrested on the same accusations.

Reporters Without Borders also gave a reminder that, in February 2002, four journalists with The Analyst had already been held for twenty-four hours because of several articles which, according to the authorities were "not out for peace" and "poisoned the minds of the people". Also, on 26 April, the police searched the newspaper’s offices and ordered it to be closed down. The President of the Republic personally authorised its return to the newsstands a month later.

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