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Journalist, three others arrested

Four people, including a journalist, were arrested on Monday and were being held incommunicado by security authorities in Liberia on suspicion of associating with the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), Amnesty International (AI) reported.

They were harassed and arrested by two plainclothes men, reportedly from the Criminal Investigation Division of the Liberia National Police, AI said in an urgent action appeal on Tuesday. "They ... may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment," Amnesty added.

The journalist, Hassan Bility, is the editor of the Analyst newspaper in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Amnesty said that, according to a news report on a local radio station, he was picked up on suspicion of "...operating a LURD terrorist cell in Monrovia".

It said that Bility had been arrested, questioned and detained twice in the past. The Analyst, it added, had been closed down twice for publishing articles deemed critical of the government.

The human rights watchdog expressed concern for the safety of the four men and urged the authorities to release them immediately or charge them with a recognisable criminal offence, and to ensure that they were not ill-treated.

A diplomatic source contacted by IRIN in Monrovia said he feared Bility's life could be in "jeopardy" since security authorities had been saying that he had given names of some of his alleged "associates". The source said: "This shows the authorities could be using some brutal means to get the information. They have said he was the ringleader of the LURD cell in Monrovia and that he had been in communication via e-mail with the LURD rebels on plans to assassinate Liberian President Charles Taylor.

"Bility and the others arrested are members of the Mandingo ethnic community. The authorities have denied targeting the community. He is being held as an unlawful combatant so he can be held indefinitely."

Mandingos are one of the main ethnic groups in Lofa, the county in northwestern Liberia that has seen the bulk of the fighting between forces loyal to Taylor and LURD rebels over the past three years. Mandingos reportedly made up a significant portion of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia, a former rebel group that fought against Taylor's forces during Liberia's faction war (1989-1996) and which is said to be part of LURD.

The diplomatic source said the public had been "warned against making statements or commenting about the arrests because 'it is a matter of state security'."

The source also reported security authorities as saying that 22 other people "who had been planted into President Taylor's security system with the aim of assassinating him" were also being held and were under investigation in an undisclosed location.

According to AI, journalists, human rights defenders, and people deemed critical of the government were under constant threat of being arrested, detained without charge and tortured. It said since Taylor declared a state of emergency in early February, there had been increased repression of government critics, suspected dissidents and alleged LURD collaborators.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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