3 October 2013

Liberia: We're Repealing Libel Laws - Pres. Sirleaf

Photo: FrontPage Africa
FrontPage Africa's Managing Editor Rodney Sieh and his legal advisor, Pearl Bull, walk out of the court.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has disclosed that the current libel laws of the country are under review and what they will be replaced by will be subjected to 'reasonable debate.'

"We are, in fact, in the process of repealing our current libel laws. What they are replaced by should be subject to informed and reasonable debate. Indeed, as a country striving to be open and free, we welcome any opportunity to discuss the laws of the land and their impact," she told the Washington Times news outlet.

This comes at the time the publisher of FrontPageAfrica is in jail after losing a libel case with former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe.

Also, the Press Union of Liberia has cried out against the libel laws of the country of being too drastic against freedom of the press. She said repealing the libel laws is essential but the debate on the issue is grounded in accuracy, given the seriousness it deserves.

"Over the past decade, Liberians have witnessed the flowering of a robust, independent and investigative media, which is a key pillar in holding the executive to account and challenging abuse of public office," she said.

The president added that for a country that for most of its existence was effectively a one-party state, many laws that remain current were written at a time when the divide between the rights of those in government and the governed was considerable.

"At the same time, the right to freedom of speech now enjoyed by Liberians, and the consequent growth of media outlets expressing a broad range of opinions, is only a decade old. Just as the media of Liberia cannot be expected to have become perfect during this time, it cannot be expected for government to have addressed every governance, economic and social legacy of one-party-rule in the space of 10 years," she said.

Yet she said her government is making rapid progress, and so is the rest of Africa in many areas of governance, including legal reform.

The Liberian leader said credible courts with public support have seen general election disputes settled in both Ghana and Kenya. The African Union is developing its own intergovernmental legal institutions capable of settling cases from across the continent. Increasingly, African nations can boast a robust and independent set of legal institutions underpinned by legislation passed by free and democratically elected parliaments.

"What is clear is that 10 years of peace, reconciliation and reform in Liberia, just as in Africa as a whole, have demonstrated measurable progress. There is much still to be done, and we welcome the involvement and support of international organizations willing to propose solutions and assist us with our task in the years ahead. There will, of course, be criticisms, and in this free and open society we are creating and nurturing, these will most certainly be listened to. This is a significant part of our future -- one where the oxygen of debate and fundamental fairness, perhaps more than our economic progress, is the real story," she added.

As Liberia celebrates 10 years since the signing of the peace accords that ended our devastating series of civil wars, it is right to reflect upon not only the progress the country has made, but also the concurrent transformation of much of Africa, president Sirleaf said.

Twenty years ago, she said few African countries could be considered democracies, and where elections were held, many were merely showcases for long-entrenched strongmen pretending they had public support. This was an age of coups and man-made disasters. Now, Africa is a continent dominated by young and genuine democracies with many, such as Liberia, emerging from a period of sustained conflict that severely weakened their fundamental institutions of state. Many of the real advances made across Africa in 20 years have been solidified during the past 10.

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