16 June 2016

Liberia: Troubling Libel and Sedition Laws

Monrovia -- Human Rights lawyer Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe has frowned on the continuous prosecution of Liberians on criminal libel and sedition charges. He said the laws have been repealed since the coming into force of the 1986 Constitution.

Cllr. Gongloe in an interview with FrontPageAfrica during the week said several journalists, rights activists and ordinary Liberians have been affected by the laws through arrest and detention when the laws came into being in 1847 by repressive regimes who wanted it that time to silence individuals they perceived as critics.

He indicated that when the Tolbert Government was toppled by the military regime headed by Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe in 1980, the 1847 Constitution was ordered suspended and the 1986 Constitution came into force with the repeal of the criminal libel and sedition laws.

"Professor Amos Sawyer and other Liberians who drafted the 1986 Constitution who have been victims of free speech by going to jail could not have allowed those laws to remain on the book but to repeal it" said Cllr. Gongloe

The human rights lawyer made the comments after government dropped sedition and criminal libel charges against rights activist Vandalark Patricks.

Rights activist Patricks was picked up by plain clothes state security officers at a local intellectual center in February 2016 after addressing a press conference on behalf of some political parties where he accused President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of allegedly using lethal force against her presumed political enemies.

He was whisked off to the headquarter of the Liberia National Police (LNP), and after three days in custody, he was forwarded to court where he was formally charged and detained at the Monrovia Central Prison pending prosecution but was set free on bail a week later.

The Ministry of Justice a month later dropped charges against the defendant when his lawyer Cllr. Gongloe had earlier filed a motion to drop the charges against him because according to him, it was wrong to prosecute anyone for free speech under Liberian laws.

In the move to drop charges against Patricks, the Ministry of Justice said it has the right to press charges against the defendant to deter others from the abuse of freedom of speech against the organic law of the country.

"The Constitution of Liberia provides that the government through the Ministry of Justice can exercise the right as provided under Chapter 18.1 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Liberia to drop all charges against the defendant Patricks" said the Ministry of Justice letter addressed to Criminal Court "A" Judge Boima Kontoe telling the court that the Ministry of Justice was no longer interested in pursuing the case.

Commenting on the dropping of charges against his client Patricks , Cllr. Gongloe indicated that it was disheartening to see the government that professed to promote free speech and expression going after people for free speech which he says is unlawful and unconstitutional.

"The Supreme Court has stated that any law that is contrary to the Constitution is unlawful and the prosecution of people on laws that have been repealed is unconstitutional" said Cllr. Gongloe. source: FPA/Kennedy L. Yangian


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