The closed military trial on sedition charges of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former finance minister of Liberia who heads the opposition Liberia Action Party, reportedly began Tuesday, prompting a statement of renewed concern from the State Department yesterday as well as from several congressmen.

"The U.S. government has expressed strong concern to the government of Liberia that Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf and others who have been arrested should receive fair treatment, including prompt due process of law," State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said.

Seven U.S. congressmen have cabled Liberian head of state Samuel Doe in recent days urging him to drop the charges against her and to free her from prison "without conditions," according to a spokeswoman for the human-rights monitoring group Americas Watch.

The congressmen are D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy and Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Thomas P. Lantos (D-Cal.), John Porter (R-Ill.), Samuel Gejdenson (D-Conn.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.)

Doe said at a news conference on Aug. 14 that Johnson-Sirleaf would be tried for remarks that she made last month in a speech in Philadelphia calling for a reduced government hand in the economy and a reallocation of public resources. Doe called her speech "detrimental" to the country and implicated her party in an alleged coup plot.

His announcement of the actions against Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist who represents Citibank in Africa, and the arrest of other politicians, prompted fears among U.S. officials that Doe might be seeking to postpone legislative and presidential elections scheduled for October and November.

State Department Counselor Edward Derwinski visited Liberia earlier this month to discuss those issues.

Yesterday's department statement noted that Johnson-Sirleaf faced a prison term of five years if found guilty and added, "We are following closely Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf's trial and the continued detention of others and will continue to express our deep concern about due process and free and fair elections in Liberia."