Liberia sacrifies press freedom to contain Ebola

Liberia sacrifies press freedom to contain Ebola

With the Ebola epidemic predicted to get worse, the Liberian government has taken action to silence news outlets critical of its handling of the health crisis, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Peter Nkanga reports from West Africa.

The disease has claimed more than 1000 lives in this West African nation, according to the country’s ministry of information.
Publishers have been harassed and forced to cease printing, and journalists were initially not exempt from a curfew, making it difficult for them to work, CPJ said, quoting the Press Union of Liberia (PUL).

During this challenging time, the action by authorities is serving only to strengthen ‘distrust’ between the government and the media, PUL stated in a letter to Justice Minister Christiana Tah on September 4.

In the letter, union president Abdullai Kamara cited several accounts of harassment and intimidation, including cases involving Women Voices, FrontPageAfrica, and the National Chronicle, which have all come under pressure in recent weeks.

Kamara cited police harassment in late August of Helen Nah, Liberia’s only female publisher, who runs the privately-owned Women Voices over a story alleging police corruption in the distribution of funds meant for the Ebola crisis.

As Liberia struggles to contain the health crisis, the government should show tolerance, and partner with the media to encourage the flow of information and debate, the New York-based media watchdog said.

The Ebola virus has been spreading like wildfire, currently attacking five countries in Africa and overwhelming experts from the World Health Organisation and Medecins Sans Frontières. More than 2 000 people, mostly women and children, have been killed by disease, according to the UN.

(Issued by CPJ, final editing by Issa Sikiti da Silva)

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