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Peter Hain, Foreign Office minister
"They are not spies, they are journalists"
 real 28k

Channel Four's Director of Programmes, Tim Gardam
"We had official permission to film"
 real 28k

Liberian Deputy Information Minister, Milton Teejay
"They were not given permission to film"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 08:31 GMT 09:31 UK
Journalists face Liberian spy charges
Liberian President Charles Taylor
Men are accused of plotting against President Taylor
Four foreign journalists arrested in Liberia have been charged with spying and are due to appear in court on Tuesday.

The men, who have been in the country for three weeks, were arrested in their hotel rooms in the capital, Monrovia, on Friday.

The group - two Britons, a South African and a Sierra Leonean - were working on a project for London-based Channel 4 television.

The film was discussed in detail with the Liberian authorities before we went

Tim Gardam, Channel 4
Channel 4 insists the four men were involved in legitimate journalistic activities, and has appointed eight lawyers to defend them.

One of the lawyers, Varney Sherman, told Channel 4 News he had visited the film crew in their cells on Monday, but they were then taken to court and charged.

The TV company said it believed the charges - of espionage and criminal design - were brought in court without legal representation for the men.

Director of programmes for Channel 4, Tim Gardam, said lawyers would again be visiting the jail on Tuesday to see the documents of indictment and to lodge an application for bail.

'Sensitive areas'

According to the charges, the men entered Liberia with "criminal design" and began to carry out "interviews and filming in sensitive areas of the republic."

Mr Gardam told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the men were there to film part of a series of three documentaries looking at how an African country can "climb out of the cycle of civil violence and try to re-establish political and social structures".

"The film was discussed in detail with the Liberian authorities before we went. We had written permission to film and had already interviewed the Minister of Defence in the course of filming last week," he said.

Liberian Justice Minister Eddington Varmah named the men as:

  • David Barrie (UK)
  • Timothy Lambon (UK)
  • Gugulakhe Radebe (South Africa)
  • Sorious Samoura (Sierra Leone).

Mr Samoura is the producer of the acclaimed documentary, Cry Freetown.

David Barrie
David Barrie: One of the four men arrested on Friday
Mr Varmah told a news conference the four men had carried out "acts against the security of the state".

The country's deputy information minister, Milton Teahjay, told the BBC the crew had been trying to implicate the country in diamond-smuggling and gun-running, and had been found conducting interviews with security personnel.

Jackson appeal

Channel 4 has rejected these claims.

Mr Gardam said: "The crew travelled to Liberia with the understanding that they would be able to record a major interview with President Charles Taylor.

"All that matters now is we put pressure on the government to see that there is no foundation to these charges and that the men should be released."
Samoura Sorious
Sorious Samoura: Producer of the documentary Cry Freetown

The US special envoy to Africa, Rev Jesse Jackson, has appealed to Mr Taylor to release the men.

"I told him their detention could only contribute to isolating Liberia," said Mr Jackson.

He said Mr Taylor had promised to give his request "his highest consideration".

'Damaging' material

The four men had been given press accreditation on the understanding that they avoided filming in what the Liberian Government considers places of strategic interest.

But Mr Varmah accused the four of "passing themselves off as journalists" and said their videotapes had been found to contain material "damaging" to the Liberian state.

Timothy John Lambon
Timothy Lambon: One of the Insight News team
"The intent of this clandestine activity is apparently designed to injure not only the image and character of the president of Liberia, but provide assistance to foreign powers in their ongoing diplomatic confrontation with Liberia," he said.

In recent weeks, Liberia has repeatedly denounced what it says are international plots against Mr Taylor.

Both Washington and London accuse the Liberian Government of involvement in sales of diamonds mined by Revolutionary United Front rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Mr Taylor, a former warlord in Liberia's civil war which ended in 1996, has long had links with the rebels.

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See also:

06 Jun 00 | Africa
Liberia implicated in diamond war
16 May 00 | Africa
Liberia fishes in troubled waters
26 Jul 00 | Africa
Thousands flee Liberian fighting
14 Jun 00 | Africa
Liberia: Where rebels roam free
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