Reporters Without Borders expressed concern about legal action against independent weekly The Vanguard Newspaper and objected to the arrest of one of its journalists, who exposed dealings of company boss and local African Development Agency (ADA) director Wendell Macintosh.
The newspaper carried an article on 14 October by Moses Kowo headlined "ADA Boss Scoops US$13,000 from LEC". The article said that Macintosh, CEO of auto-importer Universal Harmony Incorporated, had signed a contract in February 2004 to sell two vehicles to the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), but they had never been delivered.
Contacted by the newspaper for his version of the facts, Macintosh immediately tipped off his lawyer who threatened the newspaper with legal action if the report appeared. The newspaper's management team nevertheless decided to publish.
The paper's editor Crispin Tulay, his deputy Cheechiay Jablasone and journalist Moses Kowo, received a summons on 15 October on a complaint by Macintosh under Section 14.27 of the new criminal law punishing publication of news that is "false and misleading with the intention of exposing someone to hatred, contempt and ridicule".
Kowo also had an arrest warrant served on him but he was allowed to remain at liberty on payment of 1,500 Liberian dollars (about 30 euros) bail.
"While the country is in a period transition after years of war and in a year of relative calm, we are astonished at this sudden attack against the independent press," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "It is worrying that the courts should have been drawn into a case like this and an arrest warrant issued against a journalist."
"The Vanguard Newspaper did its job correctly and its journalists should not have to fear being thrown in prison. We call on the Liberian justice system to drop the action against this weekly. We also urge the government to accept that decriminalising press offences is vital to democracy-building."
Macintosh's lawyer failed to appear at the first hearing of the case on 18 October. Reporters Without Borders has learned that the following day the businessman's legal team proposed an out of court settlement to the newspaper. Negotiations were due to open shortly.