Celebration erupted yesterday afternoon at the Criminal Court ‘C,’ Temple of Justice, after Judge Peter Gbeneweleh ordered talk show host Henry Costa released, describing his arrest and subsequent detention by the Liberian National Police (LNP) as “unthinkable and unbelievable.”
Judge Gbeneweleh, in his ruling declared that it was “unthinkable and unbelievable,” that Costa was detained because “he had been hiding behind his microphone for the past three weeks to escape arrest.”
State lawyers alleged that Costa was arrested because of his statement on radio that government unlawfully deported a Lebanese national, Sam Fawah, one of the owners of SSF, a construction company. The lawyers further alleged that Costa was invited to clarify his statement against the government, but Costa reportedly refused to attend the police hearing.
However, Judge Gbeneweleh rhetorically asked, “How would the police say Costa had been behind the canopy of the radio to prevent his own arrest, until he was picked up on February 7, for curfew violation?”
“Where did they arrest him, in his house or on the street?” Answering the question, he said, “Costa was not in hiding, he was arrested on the street because he violated the curfew.”
He quoted Article 21 ( g) of the 1986 Constitution which says “The right to the writ of habeas corpus, being essential to the protection of human rights, shall be guaranteed at all times, and any person arrested or detained and not presented to court within the period specified may in consequence exercise this right.”
Based on that, the Judge observed that it was necessary for Costa’s lawyers to file the writ of Habeas corpus before the court for Mr. Costa’s immediate release.
According to him, curfew violation is not a crime rather if an individual is arrested because of violating it, that person is only liable to pay a fine of $25, not making specific reference to any of the currencies in circulation in the country.
“You said, you arrested 34 persons including Costa in connection to curfew violation, but you went ahead to release 33 of those arrested leaving only Costa. What kind of justice is this?” Judge Gbeneweleh wondered.
“It is a complete violation of the rights of his liberty as provided in the constitution,” the Judge declared.
He explained that during the argument, state lawyers claimed that they invited Costa to appear before the police on several occasions to give clarity about statements he made on radio that government unlawfully deported a Lebanese national, Sam Fawah, one of the owners of SSF.
“But, they failed to show any documentary evidence about the invitation they sent to Costa to attend their hearing to this court,” Judge Gbeneweleh said.
Besides, he said, there was no appropriate writ to show that Costa was charged by the police beyond the 48 hours he was detained in violation of Article 21 (c) of the Constitution.
“Therefore, the writ for habeas corpus is hereby granted and Costa is immediately released from further detention. It is hereby ordered, matter suspended,” Judge Gbeneweleh declared.
The release order brought cheers from the eagerly waiting family members who had tried unsuccessfully to get Costa out of detention for more than three days.
Immediately upon his release, Costa told journalists he would address the issue leading to his arrest on his talk show today, Friday.
His statement was greeted with cheers and a round of applause from his supporters and admirers in the gathering as they shouted, “Costa has won the Ministry of Justice, and the government since he has been given justice. Nobody will stop him from saying the truth on radio.”
Costa was temporary released last Tuesday and placed into the care of the Sheriff of the court by Judge Gbeneweleh, after Costa’s legal team filed a writ of habeas corpus for his unconditional release.
He was arrested at about 2 a.m., on Saturday, February 7, after police said, he along with 34 others were in violation of the curfew imposed by government, as part of its fight against the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).