A media group under the banner-Strategic Journalist Committee has alleged that recent threat by the Director of the Executive Protection Service (EPS), Mr. Othello Warrick, against journalists in the country was backed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The EPS provides security and protection for the President, Vice President, members of the first family, and other dignitaries as directed by the presidency.
While celebrating World Press Freedom Day on Friday, May 3, 2013 in the port city of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, EPS Director Warrick threatened to “go after” any journalist that would mistreat or infringe on the rights of others. The EPS’ boss issued the threat against journalists in the country when he was asked to make brief remarks at program marking the celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Buchanan.
He uttered: “Be careful in questioning the integrity of Liberians because you have your plans but if you incriminate the character and integrity of Liberians like myself, trust me, we will come after you. If you mistreat or infringe on the rights of someone, your rights will be infringed upon. Governance is everybody’s responsibility and any press member who surpasses his responsibility to get involved in testing our intelligence, trust me, the EPS will restrict you. ”
But the Strategic Journalist Committee, in a strong worded statement issued in Monrovia on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 under the signature of the Chairman, Mr. Rhodoxon S. Fayiah, asserted that the “refusal” of President Johnson-Sirleaf to distant herself from Director Warrick’s threatened statement clearly indicates that she is in full support of his threat against journalists.
The media group described Director Warrick’s statement as “endangering the lives of journalists in the country.”
The Strategic Journalist Committee pointed out that Director Warrick’s threatened statement undermines Press Freedom and the Freedom of Information Act in the country.
The FOI Act was passed on September 16, 2010 by the Legislature and signed into law by Madam President. The media group then called on the Liberian leader to dismiss the EPS chief on grounds that his statements also undermine the Table Mountain Declaration that was signed by the President last year. The group said it would ‘consult’ with international partners to withdraw the recent West African Editor Award given to President Johnson-Sirleaf if she fails to dismiss Mr. Warrick.
Meanwhile, the Executive Mansion through 2nd Deputy Presidential Press Secretary, Mr. Christopher Seelee, has debunked allegation by the Strategic Journalist Committee that President Johnson-Sirleaf backed the recent threat by Director Warrick against journalists in the country.
Responding to the Strategic Journalist Committee’s allegation against his boss in a mobile phone interview with the Heritage on Tuesday, May 7, 2013, Mr. Seelee said it was incomprehensible for a media group to make what he called “reckless insinuation” against the President, who according to him, wholeheartedly subscribes to press freedom. Contrary to the media group’s claim, Mr. Seelee told this paper that Madam President will always support press freedom.
He said the administration of President Johnson-Sirleaf remains supportive of press freedom in the country as evidenced by the signing of the Table Mountain Declaration and the Freedom of Information Act.
He described the allegation by the media group as complete “rubbish”.
“While will a media group think so low like this, the President will never tamper with Press Freedom,” Mr. Seelee asserted.
Quizzed about the Presidency’s position regarding the EPS boss’ threat against journalists in the country, Mr. Seelee said it was not appropriate to comment on it now because the Executive Mansion is currently contextualizing the statement made by Director Warrick.
Following this, the 2nd Deputy Presidential Press Secretary stated that the Presidency will come up with its position on the matter. When he was furthered quizzed as to how soon, he did not put a time frame to it, but added very soon.