The Minister of Justice, Cllr. Benedict Sannoh, has disclosed that the government has embarked upon a new trend that would see people brought to book for what they say or write, as enshrined in the constitution which obligates people to take responsibility for what they say or write under freedom of expression.
Speaking at the Ministry of Information regular press briefing yesterday in Monrovia, Minister Sannoh announced that the GOL is prepared to prosecute Mr. Simeon Freeman, political leader of the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC), for recent comments insinuating that the government has listed ten of its perceived critics to have them eliminated. The Minister did not state what crime, per se, Mr. Freeman would be charged for, but noted that “the honorable thing to do is for Freeman to turn himself in.”
Mr. Freeman at a press conference on Thursday, February 4, made the claim that the government under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has hired a death squad for ten politicians and critics of her government, including him. According to him, the blacklisted individuals are to be eliminated before the end of her administration.
Also announcing the official autopsy results concerning the cause of death of late LPRC Managing Director Harry Greaves, the Justice Minister said that assertions like Freeman’s have grave implications on the security of the state and people might be brought to book for what they say, especially when the information provided has an adverse implication on the safety of the state. In this regard, he said, “Simeon Freeman will be prosecuted.”
“Moving forward, I would like to make this very clear that those who believe they can use the context of freedom of the press to deliberately engage in conduct that undermines the peace and security of this country, this government will take appropriate actions.
“I want to make it clear that those rumors that have been going around that government wants to take action against Freeman are true. We will prosecute Simeon Freeman,” he said, saying that others who are engaged in similar conducts like Freeman will also be prosecuted.
Minister Sannoh appeared quite enraged when he said, “We have the responsibility to protect not only the integrity of the governance, but the body politic of this country and knowing fully well the impacts of what people say or do on the maintenance that body politic, it is the duty of the government to resume law and order.”
He also criticized the press for the manner in which Harry Greaves’ issue is being handled, and indicated that many of the media reports have been based on speculations and falsehood.
He said press freedom is a constitutional right as enshrined in the constitution and is making many positive contributions in other countries around the world. “The press is a key partner and the freedom, when exercised properly, could be an instrument of good governance, accountability and peace and stability. But if improperly used, it could be an instrument of instability,” he noted.
He disclosed that since coming to power this government has pushed many things under the carpet in the interest of national reconciliation. He noted that people are taking advantage of this and are abusing the freedom of speech.
According to him, the government has the responsibility to balance the right to freedom of speech with the interest of the national body politic.
“We have many good journalists and media outlets in this country that are clearly informing the general public. They are providing information that is positive to the democratization of the state. But we must also say there are many journalists and people who have embarked on the dissemination of deliberate falsehoods. This means knowing fully well that the news that you are writing is not true and you make no effort to ascertain the truth,” he stated.
He said people should know that Liberia is still a fragile state or a post conflict state and that spreading false allegations against the government, some of which are inciting, does not mean well for the country.
“This country is emerging from war and there are many, many threats to the peace and stability of the country, which we have managed with the efforts of our international partners.”
“Ahead of us lie the 2017 elections, which is a major milestone in the history of the country; ahead is also the turnover of the security architecture from UNMIL to us. This government has the responsibility to create the enabling environment where the 2017 elections will be held free and fair under a peaceful atmosphere so that, come 2018, we will hand over to a newly elected government.”