ZAM Reporter

ZAM Statement of Protest | Stop abuse of our colleague, investigative reporter Bettie Johnson-Mbayo, and friends

Last week, on 15 January, award-winning Liberian journalist Bettie Johnson-Mbayo and her husband Dr Moses Mbayo, together with a friend, were ordered flogged by parliamentarian representative Marvin Cole because their vehicle was parked at the edge of his fence in a public alley. The couple and their friend, a school principal, had parked there to pay their respects to a nearby family where someone had recently died.

The people’s representative saw the parked car near his fence as an obstruction of his freedom of movement. He was so angered that, according to the couple, he shouted expletives, followed by a tried and tested ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ To punish the perceived slight, apparently even flogging, which Cole recruited a number of nearby men to do, was not enough. The MP proceeded to have the Mbayo’s charged with ‘felonious restraint’, ‘disorderly conduct’ and ‘terroristic threats’. Bizarrely, he succeeded in getting the couple to appear in court on these charges on the 21st January.

It is hard to avoid questioning whether this atrocious conduct by a parliamentarian, who seems to enjoy good contacts within the Liberian police and judiciary, could have anything to do with Bettie Johnson-Mbayo’s recent journalistic work. Her exposure of Liberia’s thieving parliamentarians, published on in August 2021, gained widespread attention and acclaim, but must have ruffled hairs among the rich and powerful in Liberia. Marvin Cole himself has been the subject of a number of scandals whereby public resources were used for own gain.

Bettie Johnson-Mbayo, her husband and school principal friend now need to come up with bail money to avoid prison. The bizarre ‘terrorism’ label for what amounts to a parking offence, -likely not even that, because according to the couple, the parking space was in a public alley-, would be laughable if the consequences for the Johnson-Mbayo’s would not be so serious.

ZAM calls on everyone in its international network to express protest and solidarity with the Johnson-Mbayo’s and exercise pressure on the Liberian authorities to secure the immediate release, the dropping of all charges, fair compensation to the couple and their friend and an end to all threats and intimidation.

If Liberia’s ruling political class wants to continue stealing, it is their decision. But they must not punish journalists for pointing it out.

Read Bettie Johnson-Mbayo’s investigation into Liberia’s kleptocratic political elite here.

See the report in Liberia’s FrontPageAfrica here.