Liberia: Bar Association President Warns Public Officials Against Threatening Journalists With Lawsuit for Speech

Monrovia — The president-elect of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), Cllr. Tiawon S. Gongloe, has called on officials of the Congress for Democratic Change-led government not to take anyone to court for free speech.

Cllr. Gongloe made the remark over the weekend when he was gowned in Monrovia for his outstanding role in the Judiciary Sector.

"Speech does not belong in the courtroom; the remedy to speech is to counter speech with speech. Those who go to court to fight speech demonstrate something: their inaptitude and lack of knowledge to counter speech with speech," Cllr. Gongloe said.

The acclaimed rights lawyer added: "In fact, they are telling those people whose speeches for which they want to take them to court that they (those threatened with lawsuit) are more intelligent than they are."

"When somebody writes, write your own, too. When somebody speaks in the way that you do not like, speak back, too."

He continued: "In democracy, speech does not belong in the courtroom. It belongs in the public space of contesting, contestation of ideas."

Although the learned lawyer did not mention the names of those in government he had alluded to, late last year Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah and the Minister of State for Presidential Affair, Nathanial McGill, threatened a joint lawsuit on the publisher and managing editor of FrontPageAfrica, Mr. Rodney D. Sieh.

Specifically in his threats, Min. McGill told the Truth Breakfast Show of the Renaissance Communications Inc. that he will take FPA boss to court, a day after the newspaper had revealed multiple layers of corruption, fiscal mismanagement, kickbacks and waste resulting in millions of dollars in losses from the Liberian government coffers in just the first year of this administration.

In the newspaper's revelation, nearly all of the payment vouchers originated from the instruction of the Ministry of State headed by Minister McGill, to the Ministry of Finance headed by Minister Tweah.

In his claims of being innocent, Minister McGill branded FrontPageAfrica a "criminal entity."

"I am not going to comment too much; I am going to now get my lawyer involved and other people to file a lawsuit against the FrontPageAfrica. If it is proven that I authorized the payment, I'm going to resign from the government but if it is not proven, Rodney Sieh will go to jail," he bellowed.

Also, the Minister of Finance at a press conference on December 22, 2018, said he was teaming up with McGill to hire an 'intimidating list' of lawyers who will ensure that Mr. Sieh is jailed.

"If you see the list of lawyers coming to court against Rodney Sieh, you'll be intimidated. I saw the list yesterday - a major lawsuit. This lawsuit is intended to establish the basis of truth and credibility in media reporting," the Finance Minister said during the press conference last year.

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