Liberia: Court Purges Newdawn Boss of Contempt

Criminal Court "C" Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh has purged of contempt (cleared of guilt) the Publisher of NewDawn newspaper Mr. Othello B. Garblah after hearing a contempt case called Thursday, 11 July against a publication that the court sees as embarrassing.

The Publisher and Managing Editor of this paper Mr. Garblah was called for a contempt hearing after publishing a story in the Tuesday, 9 July edition of the NewDawn headlined: "Plot to exonerate defendants?"

The publication raised concerns that Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe visited Court "C" during hearing of the ongoing Sable Mining US$950,000 alleged bribery trial on Friday which compelled presiding Judge Gbeneweleh to halt the trial for nearly 25 minutes as they both proceeded in his chambers.

But Judge Gbeneweleh states that the NewDawn newspaper's publication with the caption "Plot to exonerate defendants?" which carried photos of Justice Nagbe and the presiding Judge "is so embarrassing to the Court."

He says Justice Nagbe and Judge Gbeneweleh are not defendants in the Sable Mining case that requested the court to subpoena witnesses to testify ... which will justify putting their (Justice Nagbe's and Judge Gbeneweleh's) photos on the NewDawn.

Several top Liberian officials - past and present are standing trial at Court "C" based on allegations that they received bribes offered by British mining firm Sable Mining totaling US$950,000 to insert Section 75 in the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) Act.

The indictment of former House Speaker Alex Tyler, Grand Cape Mount County Sen. H. Varney G. Sherman, Bomi County Sen. Morris Saytumah, Dr. Richard Tolbert, Mr. E.C.B. Jones and others is based on claims that Sable Mining paid alleged bribe to get undue advantage over iron ore deposits at Wologisi Mountain in Lofa.

However the NewDawn's Tuesday, 9 July publication raised concern that during the regime of former President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf [when the Sable Mining case emerged], the current team heading the country's Justice Department was part of the team of defense counsels that represented the defendants.

But at the contempt hearing, Judge Gbeneweleh emphatically indicates that he "will dispense justice without favor or fear," as he took oath as a judge to uphold and protect the Constitution and laws of his dear country.

Judge Gbeneweleh continues that "This Judge cannot be influenced" with his decision in this case "and will render a fair and transparent judgment in this case like in other cases in the past."

Based on a request by Cllr. Eugene Massaquoi who represented the Publisher of the NewDawn, Judge Gbeneweleh purged the paper of contempt of court.

Earlier, the Friend of Court and Liberian National Bar Associate President Cllr. TiawanGongloe joined Cllr. Massaquoi in pleading with the Court to purge the respondent of contempt.

Cllr. Gogloe says although the caption had the potential of casting doubt over the trial, the Amicus Curie (Friend of the Court) strongly believed that the case being not a jury trial, the harm that could [have] been done by any publication in the jury trial cannot be done in this case as the judge sits as judge of the law and facts.

As such, Cllr. Gongloe concludes that the judge cannot be persuaded by any act of report or any publication in the case.

In an interview with reporters following the contempt hearing, Mr. Garblah indicates that the use of pictures are different in newspapers, explaining that when you use authority's picture it's like "you need to act."

Mr. Garblah notes that the publication did not go outside of anything in the court, saying he understands the judge's concerns.However, Mr. Garblah notes that the story is a continuous story, saying as long as there are stories concerning the case, they will be reported.

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