Liberia

Liberia: Closure of independent radios slammed

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ABIDJAN, 17 March 2000 (IRIN) - Liberian media, the US government and international press freedom advocates have lambasted the decision by President Charles Taylor's government to close Star Radio and Radio Veritas, Liberia's two independent radio stations.
'The News' and the 'Inquirer', two privately owned daily newspapers in Monrovia, printed their front pages black in protest at the closure, which was announced on Wednesday. They said the government should have gone to court if it had any disagreement with the two radio stations.

On Wednesday, armed police arrived unannounced at the radio stations, evicted staff and confiscated equipment after the government accused them of broadcasting subversive material. The two radio stations have denied the government's accusations.

The government claimed that Star was created to establish a level playing field ahead of the 1997 elections and that although this had been achieved it continued to broadcast and host "political talk shows, news, interviews and programmes that have damaging political effects...".

Star said, however, that its mandate was "to disseminate useful, impartial and objective information to Liberians".

Radio Veritas, for its part, disputed a claim by the government that it was only chartered to broadcast religious programming and said it would challenge its closure in court.

The Press Union of Liberia described the closure of the stations as "outrageous, most unfortunate and disturbing" in a statement released on Wednesday.

In a letter sent to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Edward Komo Sackor, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) asked for the stations to be re-opened. RSF General Secretary Robert Menard said "...they were only using their right to inform as guaranteed in the African Charter of Human and People's Rights, which has been ratified by Liberia".

US State Department Spokesman James Rubin said on Thursday: "The United States vigorously protests the unwarranted closure of these two radio stations and calls on the government of Liberia to reopen them immediately, without conditions, and to return the confiscated equipment."

"This is an unacceptable infringement on freedom of speech and freedom of the press," he added.

Star and Veritas have had a troubled relationship with Taylor's government. Star, set up in July 1997 by Swiss-based NGO Fondation Hirondelle, had its short-wave frequency license withdrawn in October 1998. Veritas' headquarters were burnt down in clashes in Monrovia in 1996.

[ENDS]

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