The signing of the landmark Table Mountain Declaration on July 21, 2012 by former President Sirleaf Johnson-Sirleaf, and the passage into law in February 2019 of the Act to repeal criminal libel, sedition and criminal malevolence under the George Weah-led government should have paved the way for an enhanced, unfettered press. But while these strides may seem noteworthy on the books, journalists who are supposed to directly benefit therefrom still remain shortchanged, as a good number of journalists continue to complain about continuous harassment, acts of brutality and threats upon their lives, with Liberia’s Sky FM 50-50 Talk Show host T-Max Jlateh reportedly being the latest victim of death threats.
In recognition of these threats being visited upon journalists, and based on a formal letter of complaint that Mr. T-Max Jlateh wrote the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) on October 11, 2020, the journalists’ Union has registered concerns about the security of Mr. Jlateh following news of persistent threats of death against him as a result of his stance.
“In a complaint dated October 11, 2020 sent to the Press Union of Liberia, Mr. Jlateh states that his life is being threatened as a result of his critical commentaries on societal ills during the rule of the CDC led Government,” the PUL statement on the issue claimed.
According to the release quoting Mr. Jlateh: “Of late, I and my family have received dozens of death threats mostly from loyalists of this government and pro-Weah zealots. I hold the Weah-led Government fully responsible for these visible threats against my life. This government will account if anything happens to me and any of my family”.
The Sky FM Talk Show host explained that he has observed being under surveillance and being followed by some unidentified vehicles on several drives in and outside Monrovia and noted that these actions by supposed uncover agents have badly restrained his movement and sent shockwaves through the heads of his family of his family members and co-workers with potential danger to his life and feeling.
The communication to the Union furthered that, “In recent times, the threat level against my life have increased with persistent advises and cautions from friends and contacts including security aids within the ruling establishment too be very, very careful about where I go, when I should go home and as well avoid all night outing and gatherings and I have been advised not to attend any function after 7PM”.
The PUL noted that, considering the nature of this complaint and others coming from media houses and individual journalists amidst the recent deaths of four auditors, the Press Union of Liberia is again urging the Liberia National Police, (LNP) and other state security actors to ensure the full protection of journalists during and after the special senatorial electioneering period.
“The PUL wants politicians and media contents consumers to be very polite and tolerant in their participation to open societal discourses that are contributive to democratic development of the state,” the Union cautioned, while urging all journalists to discontinue any form of political endorsement of candidates in the ensuing Special Senatorial Elections in order to maintain their credibility and the general trust of the public trust.
Meanwhile, in the wake of Mr. Jlateh’s formal complaint to the PUL alleging threats of death issued against him allegedly by zealots of President Weah, the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Information, has invited the talk show host and the PUL to a meeting to accordingly ascertain the actual nature of the allegations.
According to a MICAT press release dated October 19, 2020, the meeting is scheduled to take place at 11 AM on Wednesday at the Ministry of Information. Also invited to be in attendance are the National Civil Society Council and the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia.
MICAT said the Government of President George M. Weah has been making strides since its ascendency to create an enabling environment for all media to operate unfettered, but that these new allegations bear the potential of unraveling the progress the government has made in improving the media landscape.
“The government therefore will not condone any act or conduct that threatens the security of anyone on account of their views, however political, needless to say a well-known talk show host. President Weah has repeatedly demonstrated his respect for the fundamental human rights of everyone, irrespective of their association, including Mr. Jlateh, a longtime broadcaster,” the release quoting Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie stated.