Top Liberian Lawyer alarms over threat against Journalists

A top Liberian lawyer, Cllr. Pearl Brown-Bull, has called on President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf to immediately dismiss the under pressure Director of the Executive Protection Service (EPS), Mr. Othello Warrick, for threatening journalists in the country.

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 an indoor program marking the celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Buchanan.

He asserted: “Be careful in questioning the integrity of Liberians because you (journalists) 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,” Director Warrick amongst things stated.

But speaking in an interview with reporters in Monrovia recently, Cllr.  Brown-Bull averred that although she and President Johnson-Sirleaf are friends, she is currently afraid of going around her because of the threat issued against journalist by the EPS boss.

She termed as “bad” the labeling of Liberian journalists as “terrorists” by Director Warrick. She said threat by Director Warrick against journalists   is an “early warning sign” to citizens, especially Liberian journalists that things are apparently   going back to the old days” where people went missing.
The former Commissioner of the erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) pointed out that the EPS’ boss spoke out of “arrogance and ignorance.” She claimed that Director Warrick lacks “maturity” to head the Executive Protection Service (EPS), and therefore, no apology or reason can be guaranteed for his stay at the EPS.

 “Under all conditions this man (Director Warrick) should be fired because I am afraid of him and even going around the president because these people (EPS personnel) can take anybody to be terrorists. We are scare to come around you (Madam President) because they (EPS security) will start lying on us. It is very bad for him (Director Warrick) to say God bless your because UNMIL is here and when UNMIL leaves, they will see the people who have the pens and guns. For a head of a security branch to talk like that, this man should be fired. I am a transitional justice advocate and student coming from the TRC and there are certain signs they showed us to know that there would be a repeat of the early warning signs,” she stated.

The former TRC commissioner continued: “Mr. Brisbane was at the EPS and we did not hear such a thing. Mr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh is the Security Advisor to the president, we don’t hear him. Today you have a person that is close to the president talking about having guns and calling people terrorists. This sign does not appear good for our country at this time. This is bad and I see something like this to look like arrogance.  I think he (Director Warrick) spoke out of ignorance and he should be removed,” she amongst other things added.

Her comments come in the wake of earlier call by a media group under the banner-Strategic Journalist Committee for the under pressure EPS boss to resign. The Strategic Journalist Committee alleged that the threat by Mr.  Warrick against journalists in the country was backed by President Johnson-Sirleaf.

In a strong worded statement issued  in Monrovia on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 under the signature of  the Chairman,  Mr. Rhodoxon S. Fayiah, the media group 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,   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. 

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