Justice Ministry Bans ‘Unauthorized’ Public Assembly

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2072
Minister Dean: "To date, no application or request for a permit to demonstrate or to hold a march has been made by any person or group of persons. "

Authorities of the Ministry of Justice in Monrovia on yesterday placed a ban on ‘unauthorized’ public assembly in any manner or form. The ban was instituted in the wake of public announcements by leaders of the Student Unification Party (SUP) of the University of Liberia calling on the public to participate in a protest demonstration against what they say is the failure of Government officials, including President Weah, to declare their assets as required by law enshrined in the Code of Conduct.

Section 10.1 of the Code of Conduct, entitled, “Declaration of Assets and Performance Bonds”, reads as follows:

Every Public Official and Employee of Government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types shall sign performance or financial bonds and shall in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter:

a. at the end of every three years
b. on promotion or progression from one level to another
c. upon transfer to another public office; and
b. upon retirement or resignation.

Against the backdrop of the Code of Conduct, the students noted that President Weah has, since his assumption of office and, in apparent violation of the Code of Conduct, commenced renovation on some of his private properties without having declared his assets, leaving the public to speculate, rightly or wrongly, that the President is indeed dipping into the nation’s coffers to underwrite these ongoing personal projects.

It was for such  reasons, according to the  students, they called for a public protest demonstration.

But in its reaction, the Justice Ministry issued a stern warning to any group of people who might want to demonstrate to abandon their quest, “because the ministry will not issue permit to any Liberians, be they students and or a political organization to implement such desire, which has the undertone to disrupt the country’s peace.”

The MoJ’s statement, issued on the eve of this year’s Independence Day celebration stated: “The general public is warned that, consistent with the Act Requiring the Obtaining of Permits for Public Marches and Demonstrations, approved February 10, 1975, and Section 22 of the Liberia National Police Act of 2015, any person or group of persons wishing to stage a march or demonstration must first obtain a permit from the Ministry of Justice before staging such a demonstration.

The statement, signed by Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean, notes that to date, no application or request for a permit to demonstrate or to hold a march has been made by any person or group of persons. The MOJ wishes to stress the need for all Liberians to abide by the laws of Liberia in the exercise of their right to peaceful assembly, so that there is no disruption of normal traffic, business activities, and free movement of people. We encourage all persons or group of persons desiring to stage a peaceful march or demonstration to strictly comply with the law relating to public marches and/demonstrations,” the statement declared.

But observers here say the move by the Justice Minister banning demonstrations and public assembly is but a veiled attempt to return to the country’s draconian past where arrests, jailing of political opponents, and torture was the order of the day.

According to a legal practitioner, (name withheld), Article 17 of the Constitution of Liberia guarantees the right to orderly and peaceful assembly to consult upon the common good and not a single line in this Article requires citizens to obtain prior consent of the Justice Ministry to assemble. Article 17 reads:

“All persons at all times , in an orderly and peaceful manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations”

The reported protest planned by the leadership of the SUP, a University of Liberia (UL) campus-based political student movement, was said to have been scheduled on July 26 to coincide with this year’s Independence Day celebration.

The protest was announced in a release listing a litany of missteps on the part of the six-month-old government led by the former international soccer star, now President George Manneh Weah.

SUP added, “in this pro-masses pursuit, we call on all Liberians to wake-up and join SUP to demand good governance on July 26, 2018. If President Weah does not declare his assets before or on July 25, there will be a mass protest on July 26, 2018. We call on marketers, pen-pen riders, motorcyclists, taxi drivers, and the masses to join us on July 26, 2018. If you cannot join us, we call on you to boycott the National Independence Day Celebration,” SUP said in its statement prior to the holding of yesterday’s event in Monrovia.

SUP also called for a national boycott of the 171st Independence Day celebration, “because it is worthless. There is nothing to celebrate when extreme poverty, economic hardship, and police brutality are on the increase.”

President Weah and the entire cabinet have failed to declare their assets since ascending to power in January this year. Section 10.1 of The National Code of Conduct requires that “Every Public Official and Employee of Government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types shall sign performance or financial bonds, and shall in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter…”

President Weah came under immense criticism during his first 100 days days in office for carrying out simultaneous construction and face lifting of three of his private properties, and has yet refused to declare his assets.

Public condemnations of his refusal were recently reignited when media reports of the President of neighboring Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, declared his assets before the Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Francis Ben-Kaifala. Maada Bio did so in line with Section 119 (1) of his country’s anti graft Act of 2008.

The said section stipulates that: “Every public officer shall, within three months of becoming a public officer, deposit with the Commission a sworn declaration of his income, assets and liabilities and therefore, not later than March 31, in each succeeding year that he is a public officer, deposit further declarations of his income, assets and liabilities and also while leaving office.”

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Why can’t the President and others of concerned declare their assets? What is so hard about that ?
    This leaves me with the multiple choice question
    a) There no assets to declare
    b) The assets are being acquired
    c)Who are the Liberian people to declare assets to?
    d)Business as usual
    e) All of the above

    NB: By the Justice Minister preventing the students from demonstrating, we are returning to the tyranny or yesteryears which the CDC promise to eradicate.

    • EDITED
      Why can’t the President and others of concerned declare their assets? What is so hard about that ?
      This leaves me with the multiple choice answers/options:
      a) There no assets to declare
      b) The assets are being acquired we will get back to you guys later
      c)Who are the Liberian people to declare assets to?
      d)Business as usual
      e) All of the above and “this is our time to eat” , your don’t hambug us! Wakana declare?

      NB: By the Justice Minister preventing the students from demonstrating, we are returning to the tyranny or yesteryears which the CDC promise to eradicate.

  2. Requiring permits for any type of street protest is best practice, meaning carried out in all constitutional democratic counties. For instance, when would-be demonstrators apply for one, a small contingent of foot and mobile patrol officers are assigned as escorts to ensure free flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, including protecting demonstrators from potential angry members of the public. These are all rational assumptions that factor in law enforcement readiness for public protests, and they are supplemtary duties that need funding support too, by the way.

    Not to mention that it is shameful that some would be cheerleading student radicals without a cause. During Counselor Brumskine’s election-related suit to the Supreme Court, the phrase “rule of law” made a big bang in our political and journalistic lexicon; is it no more relevant? Because some revered person at home should’ve publicly advised our ‘future leaders’ – the students – that they can’t break the law to force others abide by any ‘law’. The best form of dissent should’ve been for them to take the matter to court.

    Unlawful street protests can be deadly even in an advanced democracy such as the US with highly trained and well-motivated police forces. Not to mention that reckless students activism have led to civil conflicts on some occasions elsewhere. Many of us advocates for stability at home are dismayed that there have been desperate attempts by anti-establishment forces to stoke commotion. For example, when UNMIL troops were present in full strength, no one seriously pushed for a war crime court; then came a boneheaded effort to link government with the death of a young journalist; followed by hue and cry over borrowing money for necessary road projects; and, ironically, students are also protesting the choice of a public orator. Let’s be careful or we may very well stoke the chaos so frantically desired by disappointed and disgruntled elites and politicians.

    • Sly, this ban is not about parading or marching through the streets. The ban is on “assembling”.
      In order to parade or march in the streets, yes, one needs a permit as you rightfully said “to ensure free flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic” and also to hold accountable the requester (leaders) of said march should in case things go out of control. Please do not tell me students will need a permit to assemble on their various campuses or at the Capitol Building or Executive Mansion grounds to voice out their grievances.
      In your own words “Let’s be careful or we may very well stoke the chaos so frantically desired by disappointed and disgruntled elites and politicians.” The ban on the freedom to assemble could “well stoke the chaos” we are trying to prevent.

  3. ….”But in its reaction, the Justice Ministry issued a stern warning to any group of people who might want to demonstrate to abandon their quest, “because the ministry will not issue permit to any Liberians, be they students and or a political organization to implement such desire, which has the undertone to disrupt the country’s peace.”

    That tells me that the government in advance, doesn’t want to issue the permit and there will be no reason to apply for one in reality!

  4. “Justice Ministry Bans ‘Unauthorized’ Public Assembly” Isn’t this a violation of the Liberian Constitution? It is true, in order to parade or march in the streets, one has to be granted a permit to do so but to peaceably assemble, I do not think one needs a permit to do so.
    Mr. Minister, please do not lead us back into those dark days when we could not peacefully assemble to voice out our grievances. Please rescind your banning order. Remember, you were among those who suffered such a banning order in the 80’s and now you want to repeat same?

    CHAPTER III
    FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS

    ARTICLE 17
    “All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations.”

  5. I see a one-sided sword here. The MoJ can quote the law about street protest but not the law about assets declaration. Has the honorable Justice minister asked the president and his officials to declare their assets because it is the law since he is the chief law enforcer? There can be no change if the change agents themselves need to be changed. This too is LIB.

  6. According to the Article 17 cited above, the government really does not have an option to prevent the students’s assembly unless they can go to court and demonstrate that there is a national security threat if the assembly is held and so the right to assemble for a peaceful protest available to the students by the constitution must not be allowed at this time given the reasons the Justice Ministry would then be required to provide. To preemptively determine that you would deny citizens their constitutional rights is in itself a violation of law. I’m assuming the Justice Minister is a lawyer by training and should know this. I’m surprised the Liberian Bar Association, if there’s one, has not come out with a legal opinion and a rebuke of the Justice Minister and a reauest for him to clarify his comments in light of what the constitution says or any case law that he may be relying on. What is a requirement by law is the exercise of his job function, and that is provide security around the route the students will take during their protest march to protect both the students and anti-protest marchers. On its face, this is a very troubling sign of where the government stands in protecting the rights of citizens and whether officials of the government have any intention of abiding by the constitution, unless it is something that benefits them. This will be a continuing challenge to democratic principals in the country under this administration unless there are a public display of a respect for the rule of law. The demand the President and his senior level officials to declare their assest is a valid one, because that’s what the constitution require of them. It doesn’t matter whether that will or will not improve the economy. It’s the law. It also demonstrate the integrity of the office holders and accountability. The risk of violating conflict of interest laws, fraud, tax avoidance and even the perception of money laundering psesent a reputational risk issue for this administration that can impact their ability to deal in international business arrangements with other nations and entitities that are subject to strict guidelines and laws intented to prevent these violations. I hope the Minister of Justice can clarify his position, or seek a court injunction with reasonable explanation, not intended to deny but perhaps delay the protest for another time, or retract his threat. If not, I will suggest the students go to court and obtain court order preventing the Justice Ministry from using any force against them in the exercise of their constitutional rights.

  7. These guys should be careful, the world has changed. Accountability today , will save you embarassment tomorrow! Does Sarkozy’s arrest lately ring a bell? Who could have imagine that ?

    • These guys should be careful, the world has changed. Accountability today , will save you embarassment tomorrow! Does Sarkozy’s arrest lately ring a bell? Who could have imagined that ?

  8. Assembly requires no permits; stop trying to deny Liberians their constitutional rights. Matching in the streets, yes. But I believe the students are doing no such thing. Stop pulling the tail of a lion … how soon do we forget?
    We all know if the students intended to match and permit was requested, no such permit will be granted. Put down the “poverty thinking”, CDCians.

  9. Folks, you know a man by the company he keeps and by his associates. I have been saying this for years that George Weah is a dictator and will be tyrant as president simply because of the people (Faure Gnassingbé of Togo and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea) he aligns himself with. What is troubling and shameful is silence of many Liberians and the decision of the minister of Justice. It is a shame that minister Dean who is wildly respected by many at home and abroad who take such a stand without properly dispensing the law.

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