A Liberian judge on Tuesday found three media institutions guilty of spreading hate messages ahead of last week’s disputed presidential poll but allowed them back on air.
Government had ordered the closure of the three radio and television stations following deadly clashes between police and opposition protesters that left at least two dead on the eve of the November 8 run-off.
Power FM and TV, Love FM and TV as well as football star and opposition vice-presidential candidate George Weah’s Kings FM and Clar TV, were charged with “broadcasting hate and inciting messages intended to disrupt public peace.”
“The actions of the institutions – for example calling for the general disarmament of state security forces and UN peacekeepers in the country – was an indictable offence under Chapter Three of the 1986 constitution of Liberia,” Judge James Zota ruled.
“The actions of the media institutions warranted their closure as was done, so as to preserve public peace and security.”
Zota however decided against slapping any penalty on the broadcasters and said it was important they re-open in the name of press freedom.
Media organizations had criticized the closure as a crackdown on the media but President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf defended her decision.
“They were really inciting the public to do things,” she told reporters last week, adding they were closed to “prevent the incitement of further violence and protect lives.”
Sirleaf referred to Rwanda where hate messages and propaganda were used to call for the extermination of the Tutsi minority in the 1994 genocide.
Chief prosecutor Walkins Wright said: “Even though we do not agree with the ruling here today we must abide by what the law says.”
The owner of Power FM and TV Aaron Kollie said the guilty ruling was a “miscarriage of justice”.
The opposition boycotted last week’s run-off, accusing the Nobel-winning incumbent of rigging her way to re-election and raising tensions in a country still recovering from a brutal 1989-2003 civil war that left some 250,000 dead.