Channel 4 documentary crew accused of spying may face Liberian show trial

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The Independent Online

Concern was growing yesterday over the fate of a four-man television crew working for Channel 4 who are being held in Liberia accused of spying.

Concern was growing yesterday over the fate of a four-man television crew working for Channel 4 who are being held in Liberia accused of spying.

The Rev Jesse Jackson, the American civil rights leader, yesterday asked the Liberian President, Charles Taylor, to release the men. A senior British diplomat was on his way to Liberia's capital, Monrovia.

But there was mounting fear that President Taylor , accused by Britain and the US of being involved in diamond-smuggling and arming rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone, may use the men for a show trial. Unconfirmed reports said they may appear in court today.

The crew - David Barrie, who is British, Tim Lambon who has dual British/South African citizenship, Sorious Samoura from Sierra Leone and Guglakeh Radebe, a South African - had been in Liberia for nearly three weeks making a documentary on African politics, called Sorious Samoura's Africa.

Mr Samoura, based in London, is a film maker of international renown. He recently won prestigious awards for his documentary on the Sierra Leone civil war, Cry Freetown. The film highlights the savage brutality of the Revolutionary United Front rebels and Mr Samoura was said to be on an RUF death list.

President Taylor is accused of arming the RUF in return for diamonds from rebel-held mines, and several RUF leaders are based in Liberia.

A Channel 4 spokesman said yesterday that the crew from the London-based Insight News production company had received the necessary authorisation from the Liberian ministry of information to film in the country.

But the crew's tapes have been seized by police. The Liberian Justice Minister, Eddington Varmah, claimed that police had "written and physical evidence" against the four which would be presented in court.

He added: "The intent of the clandestine activity is apparently designed to injure not only the image and character of the President of Liberia, but also to disrupt the economic, social and political fabric of Liberia by providing assistance to foreign powers in their ongoing diplomatic confrontation with Liberia. The crew was responsible for allegations of diamond-smuggling, gun-running, support for the RUF and human rights' abuses."

Paul Mulbah, a senior police officer, said his officers found information that "raised eyebrows". He refused to say what that was but added: "We acted professionally and legitimately by first obtaining a court warrant before effecting the arrest."

Matt Baker, a Channel 4 News spokesman, said: "We are confident the tapes confiscated by the Liberian authorities will show the four journalists were only engaged in legitimate journalistic activities during their stay in Liberia.

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

Lindsay Hillsum, Channel 4's diplomatic editor and a close friend of Mr Lambon, said: "Obviously, we are deeply concerned about what had happened. But we are hoping it will all be resolved quickly. The men were on a journalistic assignment and it is absolute nonsense to say they were engaged in spying."

The Foreign Office said a senior diplomat, Hayden Warren Gash, based in the Ivory Coast, was due in Liberia today. A spokeswoman said the British consul in Monrovia, Brian Brewer, had spoken to the four men and they appeared to have been well treated.