News Brief
The detained FrontPage Africa journalists. Photo via Facebook

Staff at Liberia's Biggest Newspaper Arrested

Many worry that the 'FrontPage Africa' closure and arrest of its staff could be a sign of things to come under a George Weah government.

A Liberian newspaper known for its investigative approach to covering politics has been shut down, its offices closed, and its staff arrested by police. Officially the closure and arrests are due to a civil matter, but the shut down has major implications for freedom of speech in Liberia.


Full disclosure: I used to work in the FrontPage Africa offices while working for the organization Journalists for Human Rights. I was there in 2011 when the editor Rodney Sieh was arrested over a story that pointed to corruption taking place at the highest levels of government. His arrest and the closure of the FrontPage Africa offices, while not officially coming from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a frequent target of the paper's criticism, nevertheless had a chilling effect on Liberian journalists and their ability to investigate corruption allegations without fear of arrest. In Liberia, spurious libel cases are often effective ways to shut down reporting on corruption.

The government of recently elected President George Weah has distanced themselves from the arrests, releasing a press statement emphasizing that this was a matter with the courts and the complainant. See below:

Rodney Sieh, FrontPage Africa's editor and publisher, who was overseas during the arrests, gave this response to OkayAfrica:

Contrary to what the ministry of information, we are strongly convinced that the government is definitely behind what happened today and the Presidency is in the know. Why was it necessary to shut down our newspaper and arrest our staff?

The Civil Law Court issued two separate instructions to the Sheriff against Frontpage Africa all dated 5th April 2018: Additionally, summons was issued for FPA as Defendants to appear or April 15th 2018; A separate summons was issued for FPA to appear in JUNE 2018. So, was it really necessary to arrest and shut down our premises?

Finally, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe told the VOA in an interview that since the government case to office we have not published any positive stories about the new government. While we are not the mouthpiece of the government that assertion is far from the truth. Modern technology offers easy access to search the net and see that we have carried a lot of positive stories. It is not our fault when our investigation leads in the negative direction.

We owe no favors and demand nothing from anyone. The government's actions today will not keep us from doing our investigative work but will only strengthen us to do more.

We are aware that government operatives have been using fake social media accounts to attack our credibility and issue threats against me and my staff - with some suggesting arson.

We will not back down neither would we waiver. President Weah's failure to keep his supporters from raining threats on the media falls on his record and his presidency. Should anything happen to me or any member of my staff our blood will be on his hands.

The government's denial is the oldest trick in the book- hide behind civil lawsuits to strike and suppress the press.

According to Mae Azango, one of the journalists detained and a star reporter known for her impactful stories, the paper's staff were released on bond and expected to show up in court tomorrow.

Interview

A Candid Conversation With Olamide & Fireboy DML

We talk to the Nigerian stars about the hardest lessons they've learned, best advice they've ever been given and what Nigeria means to them.

Olamide and Fireboy DML have been working together for three years, but the first time they sit down to do an interview together is hours after they arrive in New York City on a promo tour.

It's Fireboy's first time in the Big Apple — and in the US — and the rain that's pouring outside his hotel doesn't hinder his gratitude. "It's such a relief to be here, it's long overdue," he tells OkayAfrica. "I was supposed to be here last year, but Covid stopped that. This is a time to reflect and refresh. It's a reset button for me."

Olamide looks on, smiling assuredly. Since signing Fireboy to his YBNL Nation label in 2018, he's watched the soulful young singer rise to become one of Nigeria's most talked-about artists — from his breakout single, "Jealous," to his debut album Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps, hit collabs with D.Smoke and Cuppy, and his sophomore release, Apollo, last year.

Even while he shares his own latest record, UY Scuti, with the world, Olamide nurtures Fireboy's career with as much care and attention as he does his own, oscillating between his two roles of artist and label exec seamlessly. His 2020 album Carpe Diem is the most streamed album ever by an African rap artist, according to Audiomack, hitting over 140 million streams. When Olamide signed a joint venture with US-based record label and distribution company, Empire, in February last year he did so through his label, bringing Fireboy and any other artist he decides to sign along for the ride, and establishing one of the most noteworthy deals on the continent.

Below, Olamide & Fireboy DML speak to OkayAfrica about their mutual admiration for each other, what makes them get up in the morning and how they switch off.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

popular.

Adekunle Gold Is Living His Best Life

We speak to the Nigerian star about how marriage and fatherhood have led him to find both newfound happiness and newfound freedom as an artist.