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Liberia5 August 2002

Authorities refuse to produce journalist’s "living body"


On August 1st, President Charles Taylor told reporters that Hassan Bility was alive and well. He also said that the International Committee of the Red Cross would be allowed to visit him.


Reporters Without Borders today condemned the Liberian government’s refusal to comply with an order from the country’s highest military court to produce "the living bodies" of journalist Hassan Bility and two other unidentified men who were arrested with him by security officials on 24 June. The Minister of Defense has rejected the military court’s order, issued on 25 July, as null and void, stating that the court had not been authorized by any competent authority to intervene in the case.

"How are we not to take this as a pretext," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Liberian President Charles Taylor. "We ask you to prove your good faith by authorizing a member of the Red Cross to see the journalist in order to establish that he has not been beaten or roughed up."

Editor of the Analyst news weekly, Bility is known for being very critical of President Taylor. He has been reported missing since 2 July, and Reporters Without Borders fears that he may have been tortured to death. He has been accused of collaborating with the rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

The military court had ordered that "the living bodies" of the three men be produced by 7 August in response to habeas corpus writ. Now, one of the court’s judges has been summoned to appear before the Minister of Defence to explain "actions incompatible with his status".

Previously, on 1 and 2 July, the authorities failed to bring Bility and the two others before a civilian court in Monrovia in response to the writ served by the National Human Rights Centre of Liberia, a grouping of local human rights organisations. On 2 July, the public prosecutor’s office said the suspects were no longer being held by the government.

Concerned about this situation, Reporters Without Borders had alerted the chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Diego Garcia Sayan, on 3 July. Previously, on 28 June, the organisation asked Liberian Information Minister Reginald Goodridge to quickly provide proof of the accusations against the journalist, or to release him. Until now, the organisation has received no response from the authorities.

Shortly after Bility’s arrest on 24 June, the Information Minister had said he was being held at the National Security Agency in Monrovia. He said Bility was "the central figure" among those running cells in Monrovia in collaboration with LURD terrorists and their supporters in the United States with the aim of assassinating President Taylor.

The authorities had said they had obtained several e-mail messages sent or received by Bility which proved his links with the rebels. LURD’s spokesperson abroad said Bility was neither a LURD member nor a sympathizer and that, on the contrary, Bility had been very critical of the LURD.

07.08.2002 - President confirms arrest of journalist Hassan Bility

President Charles Taylor confirmed on 6 July that Hassan Bility, editor of the privately-owned weekly paper The Analyst, was still being held by the government. He said he had not been tortured, that Red Cross officials would be allowed to visit him and that he would probably be tried by a military court for being an "unlawful combatant". Taylor’s statement, on Kiss FM, a radio station he owns, contradicted the public prosecutor’s office, which said on 2 July that Bility was no longer in government hands.


image 106 x 101 (GIF) Hassan Bility, editor of the privately-owned weekly paper The Analyst accused of plotting with anti-government rebels to kill President Charles Taylor, has been missing since 1 July, after being arrested on 24 June with two other people.

Reporters Without Borders is very concerned and has asked the chairman of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Diego Garcia-Sayan, to "intervene urgently" with the Liberian government.

"We fear Bility, a fierce critic of President Taylor, may have died under torture," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Garcia-Sayan.

The organisation asked Liberian information minister Reginald Goodridge on 28 June to provide speedy proof of the accusations against Bility or else to release him. "We hope the allegation of plotting to kill the president is not just an excuse to gag a journalist who has been harshly critical of the government," Ménard said. The authorities have not responded.

The National Human Rights Centre of Liberia, a group of local bodies, asked the government to show them the three arrested people, dead or alive, under the habeas corpus law. The three (two of whom have not been identified) were not presented to a court in Monrovia on 1 and 2 July as the Center had requested and on 2 July, the public prosecutor’s office said they were no longer in the hands of the government.

Goodridge said shortly after the 24 June arrests that Bility was being held at National Security Agency offices in Monrovia because he was "a central figure" among "those who have been running cells in Monrovia actively collaborating with LURD terrorists and their supporters in the United States" with the aim of assassinating President Taylor.

The authorities said they had found several e-mail messages sent or received by Bility that proved he had links with the rebels. A spokesman for LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) outside the country said Bility was "not a member of LURD nor even a sympathiser" and was in fact very critical of it.

Reporters Without Borders recalls that in February, four journalists of The Analyst were arrested for 24 hours for having written several articles the authorities said were "not out for peace" and "poisoned the minds of the people." Police searched the paper’s offices on 26 April and ordered it to close. A month later, President Taylor said it could be sold in public once again.

In this country
1 February - Liberia
Newspaper publisher narrowly escapes plot to kill him
20 June - Liberia
Two journalists beaten by police and UN peacekeepers, one seriously injured
25 April - Liberia
Appeal to new police chief after two reporters beaten by police
24 March - Liberia
Forum Newspaper allowed to reopen its offices
9 March - Liberia
Court closes newspaper and issues arrests warrants for staff for "contempt"

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