On July 9, in the northeastern city of Ganta, a group of about 15 officers with Liberia’s Drug Enforcement Agency attacked Richards Jr., a reporter with the privately owned Hott FM radio broadcaster, after he photographed them making an arrest, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and news reports.
Richards Jr. told CPJ that the officers slapped, punched, and kicked him, and then arrested him and seized his phone, and brought him to the local Drug Enforcement Agency office, where they made him take off his shirt and continued to slap and punch him.
The officers released Richards Jr. without charge about 30 minutes later, after Hott FM news director Musa More Sherman called Ganta’s regional solicitor, Lawrence Suah, who arrived and ordered that the journalist be released.
“The brutal attack and unwarranted arrest of journalist Max M. Richards Jr. are entirely without justification, and the officers responsible must be held to account,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Liberian authorities must ensure that the Drug Enforcement Agency officers involved in this abuse of the law face immediate consequences, to send a message that attacks on the press will not be tolerated.”
Richards Jr. said the attacks left him with lasting pain in his head, stomach, and ears, which has prevented him from working on multiple occasions, and required pain medication.
The attack began when officers saw Richards Jr. photograph them while they were arresting a motorcyclist and seizing gasoline that he was selling; the journalist told CPJ he was reporting on Liberians’ compliance with government COVID-19 regulations when he saw the arrest and stopped to ask the officers about it.
Richards Jr. said his arrest was made at the behest of Ganta Drug Enforcement Agency commander Jeremiah Nepay, who was at the scene.
On July 10, the day after his arrest and release, Richards Jr. attended a meeting at Suah’s office with Nepay, but said the meeting ended when Nepay walked out and threatened to sue the journalist for speaking about his arrest on radio that morning.
The officers returned Richards Jr.’s phone on July 11, he told CPJ.
When CPJ called Nepay for comment, he denied ordering that Richards Jr. be attacked, describing the allegation as false and misleading. Nepay referred CPJ to Drug Enforcement Agency public relations officer Micheal Geeply, who did not respond to calls or text messages.