-Rights advocate Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe asserts
The President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe has condemned the arrest of opposition stalwart Menipakei Dumoe and termed it as a slap in the face of President George Weah’s signing of the press freedom act named after late Journalist Kamara Abdullah Kamara, aimed at abolishing criminal defamation.
The police arrested Dumoe on charges of a post he placed on his Facebook page indicating that “We don’t need free bags of rice: I say we the poor in Monrovia need AK-47’s so our leaders can take us seriously.”
The police, however, say Dumoe’s post is prejudicial to the state and also undermines the security of the country that is already fragile.
Dumoe is currently detained at the Headquarters of the Liberia National Police waiting to be charged. However, Cllr. Gongloe, who disassociated his statement from that of the LNBA claimed that Dumoe has been charged with sedition.
The law amended chapter 11 of the Penal law of 1978 repealing sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President, sedition and criminal malevolence.
Prior to the signing into law of the act, speech offenses were prosecuted in criminal courts in Liberia. It was a tool to intimidate and punish journalists and political opponents before a trial is even started. Civil redress has now supplanted the criminal media offenses in protecting the reputation of an individual and institutions from undue libel and slander.
Addressing journalists at the Temple of Justice on Wednesday, May 13 shortly after visiting Dumoe in prison, Cllr. Gongloe, also a human rights advocate, said it also undermines the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. “There is no history of the empty statement causing uproar in our country and posing threat to our government. This is an attempt on the part of the police and the National Security Agency (NSA) to intimidate people during this State of Emergency (SoE).”
Gongloe continued, “Look, they have made Dumoe a national hero because their actions would now be catalogued as a violation against human rights, of which President Weah is seriously against.”
According to the rights advocate, those actions can stop investors from coming to the country to invest, “because no investor wants to hear that national security is running after its own citizens for making free speech. That individual will not want to bring his money to that country.”
Gongloe said rights protection begins with the police, “their behavior makes people judge the country and so the police should stop behaving in this manner.”
He claimed that Dumoe’s post does not amount to any criminal offenses for which he should be arrested and detained by the police.
“There are no criminal offenses within the speech and that post is very much insignificant to the country, [which is currently] fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic that is killing people around the world. They should stop the arbitrary arrest of people because of free speech or what they say everybody has their rights to speak. If somebody says Liberians need AK-47 and another group can say we don’t need a gun, but we want rice, that is the beautify of free speech for people to freely disagree. That is the country we want for now,” Gongloe noted.
Gongloe said he is seriously disappointed when it comes to police arresting people for free speech. “Let the police now concentrate their fight against those criminal activities — particularly armed robbery — and to stop distracting us by going after people on Facebook by taking information and making it as a national issue for discussion under this State of Emergency and the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Nobody should go to jail for free speech they made or wrote and so the police should stop intimidating people from expressing themselves. We need a unified front to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic as asked for by the President,” Gongloe emphasized.