March 14, 2012
Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs
P.O. Box 9001
Capitol Hill, Monrovia
Republic of Liberia
To the government of Liberia:
Last week, Mae Azango published an article in Front Page Africa that detailed the destructiveness of female genital cutting (FGC). Though the practice remains part of Liberia’s traditional customs, it should not be free from public criticism.
The death threats Ms. Azango currently faces for writing about FGC are abhorrent. They threaten the fragile foundation of Liberian democracy just as FGC threatens the safety of close to two thirds of Liberian women. The Columbia University Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) accordingly urges you to ensure that Ms. Azango, her family, her sources, and her newspaper are protected.
Madame President, the strength of any democracy is tied to the freedom of its press. Ms. Azango’s reporting should be met with praise, not punishment; with veneration, not violence.
“A journalist is the lookout on the bridge of the ship of the state,” our school’s founder, Joseph Pulitzer, wrote more than one hundred years ago. Do not get rid of your lookout. Right the ship.
Both the Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International have called for Ms. Azango’s protection. We are pleased to hear that the Liberian National Police have told Ms. Azango that they will be launching an investigation, and we implore them to bring her tormentors to justice. That a country where two of this year’s three Nobel Peace Prize winners were born could also give birth to such intimidation is unacceptable.
A fellow at New Narratives, a media development NGO run by a team of Columbia Journalism School alumni, Ms. Azango is an extended member of the Columbia Journalism School family. We do not condone family members having their lives threatened.
On behalf of the students at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, we therefore call on you to protect Ms. Azango, her family, her sources, and her newspaper.
President, SPJ Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
Vice President, SPJ Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism