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Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah
"At no time did anybody put a finger on any of the defendents"
 real 28k

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Lay-Leh in Liberia
"Lawyers left the courtroom disappointed.. they don't see the possibility of a fair trial"
 real 28k

Thursday, 24 August, 2000, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Weah to help jailed film crew
George Weah playing for Manchester City
George Weah: Highly respected figure in Liberia
Former world footballer of the year George Weah is to intercede on behalf of four foreign television journalists being held in Liberia on charges of spying.

Weah, who recently joined Manchester City Football Club, is to fly to Liberia on Saturday after their home match with Coventry City.


At no time did anybody put a finger on any of the defendents

Information Minister Joe Mulbah
The club confirmed that he will represent Liberia in an international match against Mauritius on Sunday, and then hopes to meet President Charles Taylor on Monday.

On Wednesday, a Liberian judge denied bail to the four - who were working on a documentary for Britain's Channel 4 network.

They were arrested on Friday, and charged on Monday.

Lawyers for the journalists - two Britons, a Sierra Leonean and a South African - say their clients have been threatened and abused while in jail.

Liberian President Charles Taylor
They were accused of tainting President Taylor's image
But Liberia's Information Minister Joe Mulbah told the BBC that no-one had laid a finger on the detained journalists.

And he criticised defence lawyer Varney Sherman for alleging his clients had been beaten.

"He made this [allegation] seeking sympathy, under a framework of propaganda. At the end of the day the true story will be told," he said.

'Mistreated'

A Channel 4 spokeswoman told the BBC that the four had been subjected to psychological but not physical ill-treatment while in custody at Liberia's National Security Agency.

Earlier reports that the men had been tortured were not correct, the spokeswoman said.

David Barrie
David Barrie: One of the four men arrested on Friday
The men facing charges are:

  • David Barrie (UK)
  • Timothy Lambon (UK)
  • Gugulakhe Radebe (South Africa)
  • Sorious Samoura (Sierra Leone).
All had official permission to work in Liberia, and their arrest sparked angry protests from the international community and press freedom groups.

If convicted, the men face up to 10 years in jail or the death penalty - the maximum sentence for espionage.

But Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says he has been in contact with President Taylor recently, and believes that they will be released "sooner rather than later"

Mr Obasanjo said he did not believe the men were spies.

President Taylor has promised a speedy and transparent trial, but insisted they must face trial before clemency could be considered.

"No one who comes here and commits crime will go free because he is a citizen of a big power," he said.

The UK Government has warned Liberia's President Charles Taylor that he risks international isolation over the issue.

"They are not spies, they are journalists, and this is an attack on international press freedom," Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain told the BBC.

International appeal

Liberia has accused the men of filming in no-go areas, seeking to damage the country's image and falsely linking President Taylor to diamond smuggling.

Samoura Sorious
Sorious Samoura: Producer of the documentary Cry Freetown
Channel 4's programme director Tim Gardam told the BBC that the crew were working on a three-part series on how an African country can "climb out of the cycle of civil violence".

"The film was discussed in detail with the Liberian authorities before we went. We had already interviewed the minister of defence," he said.

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

Both Washington and London accuse Liberia of involvement in sales of diamonds mined by Sierra Leonean rebels.

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

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