— CEMESP Says Gov’t’s Decision Violates Constitution
Barely a day after the Government of Liberia threatened to shut down D-15 Radio if Talk-Show Host Henry P. Costa appears on it for his vocal and politically inflammatory discussion, the management of the radio has given the government a 48-hours ultimatum to publish Costa’s indictment or turn down the media blackout against him (Costa).
On the evening of Sunday, January 17, 2021, the Ministry of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism issued a communication calling on the management of D-15 Radio not to air anything from Mr. Costa, whom the Ministry considers a “Fugitive.”
Besides the release issued, the Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Ledgerhood J. Rennie, invited the management to reiterate the content of the statement in words, preventing Costa from using the station’s platform to disseminate information.
Costa, a popular talk show host who has risen to prominence in political activism and organized two heavily attended peaceful protests in Monrovia (June 7, 2019 and January 6, 2020), escaped Liberia after his last protest when the government accused him of entering Liberia with a Laissez-Passer instead of a passport. In addition to this, Costa’s popular Roots FM was shut down and its equipment seized by state security in 2019, on the orders of the court.
Tomreen Kennedy, D-15 Radio Manager, said Minister Rennie reiterated that Costa is a “Fugitive” and did not want hate speech to be used by him. Rennie is quoted as saying that this is not only restricted to D-15 but all media institutions.
“We were concerned about other media institutions that have been hosting him, including Spoon FM/TV. We don’t have a problem but need the legal document proving that Costa is a fugitive to be published in the media because the ministry is responsible to regulate all media institutions,” Mr. Kennedy said.
According to him, declaring someone a fugitive shows that the government may have drawn an indictment through the Ministry of Justice or the Supreme Court against said individual.
“Let the media get to know about this because D-15 Radio will not want to do business with someone who is a ‘fugitive’.” Doing business with a fugitive will affect us as well. If the government does not come out or publish the indictment, the Management will come out with a definite position,” Mr. Kennedy said.
The government’s move comes after it had shut down earlier Costa’s Roots FM for allegedly operating without a license, though, according to court records, Costa’s broadcast license application submitted and was delayed indefinitely by the government.
However, Mr. Costa has been appearing on local radio stations to discuss national issues, which has led to the government’s warning that is shocking many people.
The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP) says the action of the Government of Liberia banning the relay of the “Costa Show” on D-15 radio, violates Liberia’s Constitution and contradicts the country’s expressed commitment to the intent of the Table Mountain Declaration to promote strong, free and independent press to watch over public institutions.
President Weah had signed the Press Freedom Act named and styled, “Kamara A. Kamara Act of Press Freedom”, named after the late President of the Press Union of Liberia, Kamara Abdullai Kamara.
Liberia was among the first group of countries that signed the Table Mountain Declaration that decriminalizes free speech against the Executive, a continental press freedom agreement that calls on governments to play a germane role that prevents the press from being hindered and punished through ‘insult laws’ and criminal defamation.
The Government of Liberia on Sunday, January 17, 2021, warned D-15 FM, a privately owned commercial station, not to relay the “Costa Show”, arguing that the host and political commentator, Mr. Henry P. Costa, is a “fugitive” from justice and hence “cannot host radio programs from the United States meant to communicate to the Liberian audience.”
Without attempting to divert from its core focus on the current violation of freedom of expression to get into the travel document controversy involving Mr. Costa, CEMESP states that Article 13(b) provides that “Every Liberian Citizen shall have the right to leave and to enter Liberia at any time.” And that in the case of a crime, Liberia should exercise its extradition treaty agreement with the United States to have Mr. Costa answer to any charges.
“More importantly, the government ban on Mr. Costa from broadcasting violates Article 20 of the Constitution of Liberia that guarantees that ‘No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law’,” said CEMESP, quoting the Liberian Constitution of 1986.
Mr. Costa has never been convicted of any crime in any court and therefore he cannot be deprived of his right to freedom of expression guaranteed in Article 15 of the Constitution that says “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof” and that “This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government, save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution,”
“If the Government proceeds to maintain its ban on Mr. Costa, stopping him from broadcasting and or revoke D-15’s broadcast license for pursuing its partnership with Mr. Costa to relay his show, the government would be denying Mr. Costa and several other Liberians the ‘Equal opportunity for work and employment.’ This would be a further violation of Article 18 of Liberia’s 1986 constitution.”
“This ban comes fifteen months after Roots FM, the radio station of Mr. Costa, was shut down and equipment seized by state security for not having a license to operate.”
CEMESP, therefore, draws the government’s attention to the disadvantage associated with the governance process as it tries to stifle the press and silence critical voices.
“The government cannot proceed with these old regime tactics after celebrations of the enactment of the Kamara Abdullai Kamara (KAK) press freedom law that abolishes libel and promotes free press and a society of divergent views,” said CEMESP’s release.
Roots FM (The Costa Show) and Punch FM are the two radio stations that have been denied operational licenses and frequencies in the Weah Administration.
“The Government of Liberia should do the right thing by revoking all threats and allow the D-15-Costa Show partnership to proceed,” CEMESP added.