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Liberian President George Weah at the opening ceremony of a summit meeting at the African Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 28, 2018 (AP photo by Mulugeta Ayene).

Liberia’s New Government Risks Making an Enemy Out of the Media

Thursday, April 26, 2018

In February, Liberia’s former president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was awarded the prestigious $5 million Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, becoming the fifth winner since the prize was established in 2007. It was the latest in a long line of honors acknowledging her efforts to rehabilitate Liberia’s democracy after more than a decade of civil conflict.

In the eyes of pro-democracy activists, however, Sirleaf’s record was far from perfect. One of the most commonly cited weak spots was her commitment to freedom of the press. Her time in office certainly represented an improvement over that of her predecessor, the warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, who had no tolerance for independent reporting. But during Sirleaf’s 12 years in office, her government failed to reform libel laws that led to the jailing of journalists and the shuttering of publications. Moreover, Freedom House consistently rated the media environment under Sirleaf as only “partly free,” citing frequent cases of intimidation and arbitrary arrests. ...

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