4 July 2018

Liberia: Decriminalize Speech Offence With Urgency

The House Of Representatives Committee on Information and Broadcasting has held a public hearing on a Bill to decriminalize speech offence.

The Bill, which was resubmitted by President George Manneh Weah, is in honor of former Press Union of Liberia (PUL) President K. Abdullai Kamara.

At the hearing on Monday, June 2, 2018 in the joint chambers of the Legislature, some current and former media executives provided reasons why the amendment bill should be named in honor of Kamara and passed into law.

The Chairman Of the Committee, Sinoe County Representative Jay Nagbe Sloh ascertained to know whether there are legal requirements in naming a law in honor of an individual.

In furtherance of Rep. Sloh's concern, Cllr. Finley Karngar, who also provided his opinion said, tagging a name to a law is strange. He argued that such is not a common mode of law in Liberia.

However, Former PUL Secretary-General, P. Alphonsus Zeon disclosed that it is not a strange thing to name a law in honor of an individual as in the instant case of KAK. Zeon cited a similar case witnessed in the United States of America (USA) in October 2015 where President Barack Obama signed the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act for a 38-year-old journalist, who was murdered in 2002. The Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act requires the State to recognize global threats to journalists and listing the countries and the governments that participated in heinous crimes against them. This law was enacted five years after it was passed by the US Congress.

Additionally, Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs at the Ministry of Information, Eugene L. Fahngon, said whether the bill is named in KAK's honor or not, the former PUL President has an indelible mark on media freedom in Liberia, which must live on.

Peter Quaqua, West African Journalists Association (WAJA) President indicated that Liberia amounts to nothing if it is governed by repressive laws.

A representative of Inter news, Mrs. Patmilla Paivey, stressed the need for Liberia to live up to commitments especially with international partners.

"We all need to have the opportunity where we can express ourselves freely; please when you are making decision to repeal these laws, you are doing it for the next generation.

The hearing seeks to amend the Liberian Code Revised, Penal Law of the Republic of Liberia, Chapter 11 by repealing 11.11, Criminal Libel against the President 11.12; Sedition 11, 14 Criminal Malevolence.

The Enactment Of this law should not be seen as a personal property of KAK but rather, be considered as bedrock for free expressions as enshrined in Article 15 c of the Liberian Constitution.

For us, it makes no sense for the highest law of the land (The Constitution) to give free expression as a right, then on the other, there is a statute retraining that right with draconian charges called Sedition, Criminal Malevolence, among others.

We Applaud President George Manneh Weah for resubmitting this bill, which intends to repeal the bad portion of the Penal Law of Liberia.

Prior to the resubmission, the instrument had been languishing at the 53rd Legislature with sign that it would have ever been touched.

It is our expectation that the 54th Legislature will handle this bill with urgency because doing so, would indicate that the government is serious to protect free speech and freedom of the press.

Though The Public hearing is overdue, but it is better late than never and we hope that the Committee of Information and Broadcasting at the House of Representatives will make the appropriate recommendations for passage by plenary.

We hope also that this bill currently before that august body will not be seen differently only because it is named in honor of an individual; but instead, be viewed from a broader perspective in the interest of Liberia's democracy.

Let It Be known that freedom of the press and expression is a protection to our democracy and a path growth and development.

When the people are free to express themselves about happenings in the country without fear of intimidation and arrest, investors and friendly nations will take that country very seriously; but anything short of this, we are abusers of human rights.

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