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Liberia arrests journalist over Facebook posts

After protesters had thrown rocks at police in retaliation for the tear gas and water fired at them to make them leave Capitol Hill, police created a perimeter to prevent protesters from returning to the area while Members of the Council of Patriots (COP) protest against the deepening economic crisis under Liberian President George Weah, in Monrovia on January 6, 2020. - The demonstration follows two mass rallies against the footballer-turned-president as the impoverished West African country struggles with corruption and rising prices. (Photo by Carielle Doe / AFP)

News Reporter

MONROVIA — The Committee to Protect Journalists this week called on the Liberian government to drop police investigations into journalist Kaluba Akoi’s work and allow him to cover news freely, following his arrest in Voinjama towards the end of last month.

On February 28, police in Voinjama, the capital of northern Liberia’s Lofa County, summoned Akoi, a freelance journalist who also works as a reporter with the Kintoma Radio FM broadcaster and arrested him when he arrived at the police station, according to the Liberia Press Union and other press freedom advocates.

He was held for four hours before police released him, saying that they would summon him again. Akoi told CPJ that police hit him against a wall and dragged him by his trousers during the arrest.

His arrest followed a complaint filed by Samuel Kpene Ngaima, president of the Lofa County community college, claiming that Akoi’s posts on Facebook alleging fraud at the college constituted criminal conspiracy, criminal malevolence, and illegal disclosure of official documents, Toby Reeves, Akoi’s lawyer, told CPJ in a phone interview.

As of March 11, Akoi had not received a second summons, he told CPJ.

“Kaluba Akoi should never have been arrested or detained, and the ongoing investigation into his work should be dropped,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities intimidating and harassing journalists for reporting on matters of public interest is inconsistent with Liberia’s basic standards of press freedom.”

Akoi has over 1,300 followers on his Facebook page, where he posts reporting and commentary on local news. In one post about Ngaima in December and another in January, Akoi alleged that the college president had overseen the misuse of funds, and posted images of financial transaction records.

Reeves told CPJ that police had yet to provide a physical copy of the complaint, but said officers told him they intended to prosecute Akoi if their investigation uncovers any lawbreaking.

Criminal malevolence is no longer part of the Liberian penal code following reforms in February 2019, but criminal conspiracy and the illegal disclosure of official documents each carry penalties of up to three months in detention and fines to be set by a court, according to Reeves.

Ngaima told CPJ over the phone that he could not comment on the case because it was under police investigation.

Liberian national police spokesperson Moses Carter and Voinjama police spokesperson James Taylor both told CPJ in phone interviews that they could not comment on details of the case.

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