Liberia: Those That Have Ears to Hear, Let Them Hear - the Press Will Not Be Cowed Into Submission!


"I have been directed by His Honor Joseph N. Nagbe, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, to cite you for a conference with His Honor on Thursday, May 21, 2020, at the hour of 11:00 a.m., relative to the traffic incident involving you and the Justice which occurred on Monday, May 18, 2020, at about 9:00 a.m. around the Vai Town area while he was following police instructions".

These were the words contained in Supreme Court Attorney Sam Mamulu's May 19, 2020 letter addressed to FrontPageAfrica publisher, Rodney Sieh and the management of the OK FM, citing them to appear for a conference with Associate Justice Nagbe. And the incident referred to what was apparently a blatant violation of Liberia's vehicle and traffic laws committed by the Associate Justice who has defended his action saying he was following Police instructions.

Now the question being asked is just what those instructions were and what was the exigency that warranted Justice Nagbe's violation of the law and then unjustifiably claiming that he was following Police instructions. Moreover, why did the Police issue such instructions and who in the Police hierarchy authorized such unlawful action by Justice Nagbe?

Further, according to Article 73 of the Constitution of Liberia, Judicial officials have immunity from summons, arrests, detention, prosecution or by criminal or civil trial on account of "judicial opinions rendered or expressed, judicial statements made and judicial acts done in the course of a trial in open court or in chambers." They are however not exempt nor immune to prosecution for acts of treason, or other felonies misdemeanor or breach of the peace. Nowhere in this Article are immunity provisions for Judicial officials to flout the vehicle and traffic laws of Liberia or any other law of Liberia for that matter.

Article 73 reads below as follows:

"No judicial official shall be summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally by or at the instance of any person or authority on account of judicial opinions rendered or expressed, judicial statements made and judicial acts done in the course of a trial in open court or in chambers, except for treason or other felonies, misdemeanor or breach of the peace. Statements made and acts done by such officials in the course of a judicial proceeding shall be privileged, and, subject to the above qualification, no such statement made or acts done shall be admissible into evidence against them at any trial or proceeding".

In view of the provisions of Article 73, the Daily Observer questions Justice Nagbe's assertion that he was following Police instructions. And it appears that it did not matter to him, especially as a lawyer, whether or not those Police instructions were indeed unlawful. Premised on the fact that there is no Constitutional nor legal reliance for his action, it can be justifiably argued that Justice Nagbe was in violation of the law. And he cannot cure such violation by what appears to be a use of his legal powers to bring before the throne of justice individuals who dare venture to point out his dereliction of the law.

In the opinion of this newspaper, Justice Nagbe's order to have these media executives appear before him is a blatant attempt to muzzle not just the Press but free expression as well. In view of this we must again seek reliance on Chapter III Article 15 of the Constitution of Liberia which reads in full below:

a. Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.

b. The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.

c. In pursuance of this right, there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries.

d. Access to state owned media shall not be denied because of any disagreement with or dislike of the ideas express. Denial of such access may be challenged in a court of competent jurisdiction.

e. This freedom may be limited only by judicial action in proceedings grounded in defamation or invasion of the rights of privacy and publicity or in the commercial aspect of expression in deception, false advertising and copyright infringement.

Taking the argument further, the Police officer whose instructions Justice Nagbe claims to have been following had no legal authority to issue instructions to the Justice to violate the law by jumping the restrictive barrier and crossing over into the opposite lane and thereby creating serious traffic hazard and a needless but dangerous risk to the lives of others. Should the lives of others be placed at risk because Justice Nagbe had to beat the morning traffic snarl to get to work on time?

But this seems to be the normal and prevailing practice nowadays where impatient drivers jump the queue and cross over into the opposite lane and thereby creating unnecessary and dangerous risks to life. This is a practice which the Police has to curtail by discharging their duties impartially. But it can only be curbed by setting examples from the very top.

Simply put, Big Shots must learn to respect the law by setting good examples. In this regard, Justice Nagbe's action and his subsequent attempt to justify same appears tantamount to being judge, jury and executioner. He should bear on mind that the Press/Media will not be cowed into submission. And those with ears to hear let them hear because:


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