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Five Journalists Arrested In Crackdown on Press

April 12, 1988

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Security forces detained five Liberian journalists Monday in a continuing crackdown on the news media in this West African nation.

Office workers at the Footprints Today newspaper said editor Momolu Sirleaf and three other members of the editorial board were taken into custody by armed soldiers.

A fifth journalist, free-lance reporter Issac Bantu, was seized while he was in the office of the defense minister, Gen. Grey D. Allison, according to other reporters. Bantu did free-lance work for The Associated Press and British Broadcasting Corp.

The journalists were detained shortly after the independent Press Union of Liberia declared that the government closure of the Sun Times newspaper last week was illegal and vowed to challenge the action in court.

Mary Cummings-Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry, said the four Footprints Today journalists were taken into custody for questioning and Allison wanted to talk to them.

Minutes after Bantu entered Allison’s office, security agents dragged him out and took him to the office of the provost marshal general who is the senior operational officer for military security, other journalists said.

Officials at the provost marshal’s office refused to answer questions about Bantu.

Less than an hour before he was seized, Bantu filed a report to AP in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, about the press union’s decision to challenge the closing of the Sun Times and the arrest last week of one of its reporters, Thomas Nimley.

The government acted against the Sun Times because of articles on the arrest of a Ghanaian for possession of explosives and the firing of the commander of a government anti-terrorist squad.

On Sunday, Liberia’s independent newspapers announced they planned to shut down for a week to protest government actions against the news media.

Those actions included the eliminination of British Broadcasting Corp. and Voice of America news broadcasts on the official radio station.

Information Minister Emmanuel Bowier also ordered government-run corporations to stop advertising in the independent news media and water and electricity has been cut at various newspaper offices.

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