-- But the party says police tramples on his right to free speech
The Monrovia City Court on Monday, October 4,2021 jailed Jethro S. K. Harris, a stalwart of the Alternative Nation Congress (ANC) for allegedly spreading 'False Public Alarm’ through his Facebook post.
On Monday, September 27, 2021, Defendant Jethro Harris posted a photo of the late Ms. Rolisa N. Gbeintor, a Liberian and alumnae of the Lenn Miller High School in Sinkor, Monrovia along with a graphic, claiming that it was the body of the late Gbeintor with parts extracted from her body.
Harris was arrested last week in Nimba County while on a tour with fellow partisans and political leader, Alexander B. Cummings. According to the police charge sheet, defendant Harris was invited for questioning but did not show up.
“Investigation established that Ms. Gbeintor got sick for a protracted period and subsequently died, that defendant Harris willingly, purposely and intentionally did the post so as to buttress falsehood already being circulated by some persons to be identified that the country is unsafe,” the LNP said.
“In view of the foregoing, the investigation herewith charges Harris with the commission of the crime 'False Public Alarms in Violation of chapter 17, section 17.4 of the revised penal law pending trial by the court of competent jurisdiction,” the police said. “In cognizance of article 12 (b) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, defendant Jethro was arrested and subsequently informed of his Miranda rights.”
The police added that the post by defendant Harris does not have any Iota of truth and was intended to instigate citizens and persons residing in the country against the National Security apparatus, create economic hardships, and stall the movement of peaceful people. The police also said Harris's post creates the impression that “investors closing down their business and leaving the country.”
The police believe that Article 15 (a) of the 1986 Constitution provides that every person shall have the right to freedom of expression but also reminds citizens they are fully responsible for abuse thereof.
Of late, reported cases of ritual killings and survivors’ stories have been on the rise. In Caldwell, for instance, a lifeless body of a lady was discovered with body parts extracted, same as with, to create, the Soul Clinic community. The victim this time around was a male.
But for police authorities, pictures and videos about ritualistic incidents are not a representation of what is unfolding in the country. The police added that they were posted to instill fear in the citizens and to tarnish the image of the country and raise false national security alerts. Police then warned those involved in orchestrating a negative image about the country to desist or face the full weight of the law. The arrest of Jethro is reportedly the first by the police days after warning against the spread of fake news about an issue that has to do with a mysterious death.
For the ANC, Harris committed no crime and broke no law or violates the Penal code of Liberia. Rather, his Facebook post is a protected speech under the Liberian Constitution (Article 15) and under Constitutional Law.
“Sections 12.33 and 17.4 of the Penal Code do not fit into Jethro’s post. He did not falsely post about an IMPENDING bombing or other crime as required by 17.4; neither did he report to any law enforcement official as required by 12.33. He simply posted on his Facebook page,” argued ANC Secretary General Aloysius Toe.
Toe added Jethro’s post was a recreation of an alleged gruesome act of ritualistic killing, even if false and untrue, that has been making rounds on social media; and may have reasonably believed that what he came across on social media, coupled with massive public outcry about ritualistic killings, and thus recreated on his Facebook page, was intended only to draw public attention.
“He alleged that an act had already been committed, he didn’t say the act was impending (about to happen) as required by Section 17.4 of the Penal Code. The charges against him are bogus and politically motivated,” the ANC said. “This is a CDC government clamp down on the opposition, using a rather professional police force to carry on partisan policing.”
The ANC Secretary General added Jethro was only targeted and falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned because of his association with the opposition community, and in particular, Alexander B. Cummings.
“Police IG Patrick Sudue knows and should have reason to know that he’s proceeding wrongly and illegally by ordering the false arrest, and false imprisonment of Harris. There will be legal consequences. But Jethro Harris is spending 3 nights in a filthy police cell on bogus charges without investigation simply because of his root with an opposition political party. “
The ANC’s standard-bearer, Alexander B. Cummings, who has been making efforts to get Harris released, alleged that the entire case has been politicized. “This is a misdemeanor and the police sent a whole container of people to Nimba County to arrest this young man for exercising his right to free speech,” Mr. Cummings said.
Cummings, accompanied by his lawyer, had gone to the Monrovia City Court to bail out defendant Harris, only to be informed that Harris had been taken to the Monrovia Central Prison at South Beach.
“Today we showed up with his bond to have him bailed. He was taken to South Beach prison.” ANC political leader said. “This is a minor misdemeanor. It's a bailable offense, but it has been politicized. We politicize the rule of law and we wonder why we are not getting investors.”
Mr. Cummings vowed to follow the court procedures. “We are a party of rule of law and we will follow the rules. If the judge doesn’t do the right thing, we will go to the Supreme court,” he said.
Recently there have been several mysterious killings in and around Monrovia, including two women and an elderly man. Police Inspector General, Patrick Sudue, said people were posting these pictures to instill fear among citizens and present the country as though it is unsafe.
"People are portraying the gloomy image of the country as though it is not safe," he said. LNP have earlier warned that people caught posting dead pictures on social media to cause fear among the citizenry without investigating will be arrested.