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|Caught Pants Down: Sirleaf's Security Chief Latest Official to Fall Below Belt||| Print ||
|Written by Wade C. L. Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Monday, 06 May 2013 21:10|
Monrovia - It has always been murmured in government circles, sometimes heard on the lips of some public officials that the government under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has given too much freedom to the Press, but none had mustered the courage to threaten that freedom publically, except for one man Othello Warrick, head of the elite Presidential Guard the Executive Protection Service (EPS) formerly the Special Security Service (SSS).
The ‘Tactless’ Warrick as one journalist called him, chose the anniversary of the celebration of free Speech around the world to make an unsavory speech that would land him on the front pages of almost all the Monday papers in Monrovia as well as capture the subject for discussion on various radio stations.
But whether the EPS Chief was looking for a way to make headlines since his days at the ministry of National Defense faded, his comments seems to have drawn ire in both public and official circles.
Even the Executive Mansion for which Mr. Warrick works seems to have distanced itself from the comments attributed to the EPS director though it says it is still in the process deciphering what the newspapers are reporting from Bassa.
“Under this administration and with President Sirleaf at the head, there will be no such thing running behind anybody as we’ve seen,” said Presidential Spokesperson Jerolinmek Piah in a mobile phone conversation with FrontPageAfrica on Monday.
The Executive Mansion seems to be reluctant to be drawn down the gutters with Warrick and his anti-Press rants.
“None of the things we have seen in the papers will ever be possible under a Sirleaf leadership; that we will run after journalists or run after people; absolutely not this President,” said Piah.
“We’ve seen things written in different newspaper attributed to Mr. Warrick and we don’t want to limit ourselves to what we’ve seen in the Press that is why we’re making efforts to listen to the full content of what must have been said.
‘We will go after you’
Warrick taking the stage on World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2013 decided to spew venom on journalists, since the opportunity presented itself on the day that many of them would be sitting and wanting an inspirational message, but instead of a message to edify members of the Liberian Press, he issued a threat.
“If you incriminate the character of Liberians including myself, we will come after you. We have come to say, that Liberia as a country belongs to everyone,” said Warrick in an avenger tone.
“You are not above the freedom of infringement on the rights of those that serve in government; you are not above the freedom of Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
For Warrick his job as head of the EPS is to protect the President and anyone speaking evil of that President through the pen must be tracked down and punished.
“We want to assure you and to register to Peter and the rest of the press union that the freedom you enjoy has limitations,” he said.
Continued Warrick: “It does not go beyond the emblem of Liberia- the president- the protection of the President remains the sole responsibility of the Executive Protection Service. Any Press member, that surpasses his/her responsibility to get involved in Presidential intelligence; trust me, we will restrict you. We will come to that point, do not cross that border.”
‘Do not be misled’
Warrick told a hall packed with media practitioners that President Sirleaf has given the media too much freedom that must be checked. He said the essence of democracy is to enable free speech, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness meaning that all must be guaranteed the right to equal protection under the law.
“When people begin to misunderstand the term democracy simply to publicly castigate others with unfounded lies and misinformation, the path to equal rights under the law becomes uneven,” said Warrick.
“We are not saying that you cannot preach freedom, transparency, your level of publication must be sanctioned by yourself, because as you go out and question the integrity of Liberians, you yourself should think about- you do not go free.”
Character assassination play
For Warrick, free speech has limitation and cannot be misused and all must be made to account for what they say and write against others. The elite guard head said that Liberia faces a new war and that war was been brought on by those who write-journalists.
“We have destroyed the guns and ammunition that damaged the core of our society but, refuse to address the new war of image assassination that is rapidly killing honest Liberians that are striving to contribute to the process of peace and stability,” he said.
“As we continue to say, Liberia is a fragile state within a post conflict context, treat others as you would want to be treated. Respect for others in a democratic society is the beginning to sustaining the peace.”
He said Journalists in Liberia continuously engage in what he calls personality relegation without citing specifics and pinpointing specific instances.
“Do not be misled by those that have come to tell you to attack the personality of people when you have absolutely no credible information. Be careful about questioning the integrity of Liberians,” he said.
‘We will not be deterred’
The counteraction to Warrick’s statement has been swift as the President of Press Union of Liberia Mr. Peter Quaqua has vowed that the threats made by someone at the helm of government’s elite Presidential guard will not deter the media from speaking and writing the truth.
“The media has come of age; we’ve come a long way, the violence our colleagues suffered yesterday for the freedom we have today, I’m not sure we’ve come close to it yet,” said Quaqua on Fabric Radio 101.1 Monday morning.
“No amount of pronouncement of this nature should scare us to go into submission; Othello is making an error if he thinks that he is going to stop people from speaking.”
The PUL President said it was unfortunate that officials of government misuse platforms given them to serve the people by using those same platforms to attack and threaten them.
“Government officials don’t measure the extent of feedback they will get out of the comments that they make, sometimes they go bluffing and I’m not sure if Othello was bluffing actually; if he were, I think he made a bluff in the wrong place,” said Quaqua.
Hallmark of a vibrant democracy
Whether Warrick stands by what he said in Bassa or retreats, many are of the opinion that the official in a government that have done all it can to knockoff negative press by committing to the tenets of free speech such as the Table Mountain declaration, took his speech a little too far.
Many in diplomatic and international circles around the world in the days leading up to World Press Freedom Day reminded the world of how important it was to uphold freedom of expression and of the Press.
American Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement released by the State Department said that in as the day dawned in many countries, those who try to exercise their freedom of expression face repression and harassment, from financially crippling lawsuits to imprisonment and death.
“Journalists are increasingly confronted by the failure of governments to protect this freedom, and even as technology increases the possibilities for innovative expression online, the space for free media is shrinking,” he said.
The statement by Warrick validates the U.S Secretary of State’s claim that many more journalists still face repression around the world. But it remains to be seen whether the government under President Sirleaf will ignore the calls of many around the world for a media friendly environment even though it makes some officials in her government uncomfortable. But the U.S Secretary of State holds governments accountable to the pledge of freedom.
“We call upon all governments to take the necessary steps to foster an environment where journalists can operate freely, independently, and without fear, and to release all imprisoned journalists wherever they are held,” said Secretary of State Kerry.
“We take this opportunity to express our solidarity with independent media in all corners of the world, recall journalists who have lost their lives and sacrificed their freedom or personal well-being, and recognize and honor those who fight against repressive regimes that target the press.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague in his statement recognized the bravery of journalists around the globe on World Press Freedom Day.
"We all owe a debt of gratitude to the courageous journalists who risk imprisonment, injury and death to report from repressive countries or conflict zones around the world,” he said.