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Brit News Crew Indicted in Liberia

August 22, 2000

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ A detained British television news crew was indicted Monday on espionage charges in Liberia, with officials saying they entered the country to produce a ``damaging and injurious″ documentary about the West African nation.

The four journalists from London-based Insight News Television _ two Britons, a South African and a Sierra Leonean _ stood silently in a courtroom Monday in the capital Liberia as a sheriff read the charges against them.

The journalists, who were dressed in street clothes and were not shackled, did not appear to have an attorney with them. A court official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he expected their trial to begin Tuesday, though that could not be otherwise confirmed.

According to the charges, the group entered the country with ``criminal design″ and ``began to carry out interviews and filming in the sensitive areas of the Republic of Liberia.″

The indictment said the government believed the documentary would try to support British and U.S. allegations that the Liberian government has been smuggling out diamonds for rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone, as well as smuggling weapons to them.

The government of President Charles Taylor, a former warlord with longtime ties to the Sierra Leonean rebels, has denied acting as a conduit for diamonds or guns.

Insight News and Channel 4, the British network that commissioned the documentary, said the four were bona fide journalists with official permission to work.

Channel 4 spokesman Matt Baker, speaking from London, identified the four as Sierra Leonean journalist Sorious Samura; British director David Barrie; British cameraman Tim Lambon, and South African cameraman Gugu Radebe.

Their arrest Friday at their hotel after nearly three weeks in Liberia has been criticized by press freedom groups. The American civil rights leader, Rev. Jesse Jackson, has appealed for their release and former South African president Nelson Mandela said Monday he planned to raise the matter with Taylor.

It was not immediately clear what punishment the journalists could face if convicted.

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