Henry P. Costa, owner of Voice FM and presenter of ‘The Costa Morning Show,’ was arrested by officers of the Liberia National Police along with 33 others during the early hours of Saturday morning, for allegedly breaking curfew while he and some friends were hanging out.
One of the friends out with Henry, according to his co-presenter, Woods A. Nyanton, was Mr. Samuel K. Doe, Jr., son of former President Samuel K. Doe.
“All the others were let go while only Costa was remanded in custody by the police,” he said.
Woods said he got to the LNP headquarters by 4:30 a.m. to inquire as to the reason for Costa’s arrest and was informed that Costa and the others had been picked up for vagrancy.
Woods told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview that while at the police headquarters, he had an argument with an officer who told him that his name is on a wanted list of the police for incitement and if he did not leave the police headquarters, he would be arrested.
Based on that revelation, Woods said, Costa advised him to leave. Woods further stated that at least three lawyers, including Cllrs. Pearl Brown-Bull, and Tiawan Gongloe, who had gone to represent the legal interest of Costa “very early in the morning,” were denied access to him until around midday Saturday.
According to Cllr. Gongloe, a certain lawmaker who was at the police station said he had been informed that the National Security Agency (NSA), which is headed by Mr. Fumba Sirleaf, a son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, “had no interest in Costa or the case.”
According to Woods, the lawyers got back to Police Director Chris Massaquoi and told him of the NSA disclaimer. The Counselor said they wanted to sign for Costa and bring him back Monday and had offered to pay the US$25 fee for vagrancy into government coffers.
“Director Massaquoi told us that the case was above him and that there is nothing he could do as the NSA had clearly told him that they wanted Costa,” Woods added.
The Liberia National Police issued a statement late Sunday: "Costa was arrested by 2a.m at the Vamoma checkpoint along with 17 persons and they were taken to the LNP headquarters. It was at the headquarters that we got to know that Costa had been wanted by the joint investigation security team comprising of NSA, LNP and BIN. He will be turned over to the joint team by Monday or Tuesday."
The police did not say why the joint investigation security team wanted Costa. However, Counselor Gongloe told the Daily Observer that the police having denied the lawyers’ plea to release Mr. Costa to them and their promise to bring him back on Monday, “we are left with no option but to file a writ of habeas corpus in court on Monday morning (today).
Minutes after the news of Costa’s arrest broke, his friends took to Facebook, calling for his unconditional release from detention. They said they were rallying Liberians to gather at the LNP Headquarters on Capitol Hill, where he is being held.
Eddie Baryon said: “I am calling on all patriotic Liberians to join us at the LNP headquarters to make sure that Costa is released unconditionally. Come with your mattresses and other personal belongings because we are prepared to sleep in jail today if Costa is not released. We are tired with foolishness in this country; come in your masses.”
G. Bah Morris, another Facebook friend of Costa, posted this on the The Costa Show Facebook wall: “Henry Costa didn’t commit a crime; that’s a violation. All it requires was to detain him for the [night] and let him go the next morning. Mr. Costa was in his vehicle with F.A and Doe, Jr. [Samuel K.]. These two guys were released. So why hold Costa? This is just to tell you how messed up our country’s security system is. How in this world will you have curfew at 12 mid night and then you put checkpoint at 10 p.m to start asking people for L$10, causing serious traffic?”
Gboimah T. K. Genegbanyan, II buttressed the previous comment, adding: “The arrest was made this morning but strangely, all other persons who were arrested along with Costa were released but Henry Costa is being detained at the Central Police Command Headquarters in Monrovia! There is rumor that the National Security Agency (NSA) wants the LNP to turn Henry Costa over for Investigation! Oh so when you violate curfew na da NSA can ask for you?
Bring Back Henry Costa!! Bring Back The Voice of the Voiceless! Restore Henry Costa's Rights!
Oh so when you violate curfew na da NSA can ask for you?
However, another of Costa’s friend posted this too: Bring Back Henry Costa!! Bring Back The Voice of the Voiceless! Restore Henry Costa's Rights!
“I read that Mr. Costa was invited by the NSA, to assist with an investigation that had him mentioned. If this is true, I can understand why he was not released with the others but turned over to the NSA.”
Forkpa Murray urged Costa’s friends to remain calm and “let Mr. Costa cooperate with the NSA. If his rights are tampered with, then we can take the government to task. Let us all continue to pray for peace in Liberia.”
The NSA couldn’t be reached for comments as all efforts made proved futile. The mobile phone of the NSA Director General Fumba Sirleaf was persistently busy for the past several weeks, and so it was when the Daily Observer again tried contacting him Sunday afternoon.
During the last three years of the ‘Henry Costa Morning Show’, including before parting company with his previous employer, Hott FM, Costa won himself many admirers, especially among Liberians who profess change and want the economy to be placed in the hands of ordinary Liberians. Through his show, he is seen as a “friend” by some Liberians, who admire and respect his provocative on-air style. However, this has also earned him many “haters” in high places in government and his station’s frequency (102.7) is always jammed when the Costa Morning Show is on air.
Costa himself couldn’t be reached for comments as his mobile rang endlessly on Saturday afternoon. It is not clear whether it had been confiscated by the police.
Meanwhile, Woods told the Daily Observer that they have been tipped-off that the Supreme Court might order the shutdown of the censorious Voice FM, owned, operated and managed by Costa today. The ‘Costa Morning Show,’ widely listened to locally and on the Internet, is frequently caustic in its criticism of government.
But observers strongly believe it is totally preposterous for the Supreme Court of Liberia to take such an action against a media institution—or anyone else. The High Court could not possibly do such a thing without due process of law meaning, someone first has to take an individual or institution to the High Court, and the Court hear the case before rendering its verdict.
Meanwhile in a late night press statement issued by the Press Union of Liberia, (PUL), it called on the Government of Liberia to walk up to its professed belief in a free press and open society by unconditionally releasing Mr. Henry Costa from further detention, stop further harassment of the Voice FM Family and open the National Chronicle Newspaper.
The statement, signed by its president Abdullai Kamara said the PUL is rather disappointed that government will be abusing such basic and fundamental rights of innocent citizens, within days of President Sirleaf announcing a commitment to decriminalize speech offenses, and therefore considers this action as double standard which betrays the confidence of the Liberian people.
“The PUL is concerned that regardless of the offense that Mr. Costa might have committed, the government needs to engage him in accordance with the law and not through chicanery and using the curfew as a pretext to arrest anyone for another crime is so wrong,” Kamara said. "You cannot be talking of free speech, while at the same time harassing and arresting journalists seen to be radical or offensive on obstinately bogus charges."
The Press Union of Liberia recalled several abuses of media freedom last year, including the arrest of the very Costa, just days after the first joint meeting to review the draft law to decriminalize the press; the harassment and detention of Octavin Williams on a trumped up charges of driving an unregistered vehicle and simple assault; the terrifying armed attack upon the Chronicle Newspaper and its subsequent closure; the humiliation of Women Voices Publisher Helen Nah for reporting corruption in the police, among others.
"This trend is just despicable and unacceptable, and can never be testimony to a free press regime," Kamara stated.
Regrettably, the PUL said, “though we raised all of these issues at the highest level of government, and yet there has been no action to point out that the government has been in violation of basic and fundamental human rights.
"More worrisome than the arrest is the denial by police and security authorities to permit lawyers and international human rights monitors to have access to Costa and increasing reliable information we are getting about plans already in advance stages to shut down the Voice FM.”
The Press Union of Liberia, Kamara said, “remains firm in its defense of the right to speech and guarantees of basic human rights, regardless of whoever may be involved.”