To ensure respect for the rule of law and sustain Liberia’s democratic gains, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Cllr. Benedict F. Sannoh, has decided to get tough.
Justice Minister Sannoh’s stern approach comes right after the arrest and detention of one of Liberia’s popular talk show hosts, Henry Costa, of the Henry Costa Morning Show, early last Saturday morning by police officers who accosted him along with several others. Costa has since been released after spending three days in police custody.
In a statement issued to the media Monday, Cllr. Sannoh warned the public that ‘Notice is hereby served,’ and he went on to strongly urge all citizens and residents in Liberia, “irrespective of ethnic, political or social status, to respect the law and all constituted authorities to use legitimate channels for addressing their grievances.”
He said Liberians must refrain from deliberate acts, “such as inciting the public to actions that will compromise public order, security of the state, and the peace and stability that we enjoy today.”
Cllr. Sannoh’s statement comes two days after Henry Costa’s arrest and detention by government security apparatus, which caused a public outcry.
Costa, who many people consider as highly critical of President Sirleaf’s administration, is also seen by others as a tough talking media personality who is prepared to talk about issues the way they are.
“I must confess that Costa can sometimes be inciting,” admitted one of his admirers who was interviewed for this story. “I know he means well and his actions against the ills of the government must be complimented, and not punished.”
But it is what others see as Costa’s toughness that has irked the administration, for though Cllr. Sannoh made no direct reference to Mr. Costa, he was indirectly hinting at activities in which Costa has deeply involved himself.
Cllr. Sannoh: “Some citizens, failing to realize that the use of the airwaves is not an inherent and inalienable constitutional right but one that is subject to the control of the government through an objective licensing regime, are using radio stations to incite to insurrection and violence, undermine public security and public order and challenge the authority of Government to carry out its constitutional functions.”
There is no denying that Cllr. Sannoh had Costa’s activities or opinions in mind and so when he said, “I have directed the Liberia National Police, and all law enforcement agencies, that in all cases where they have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, or a law has been violated, to have the person or persons so involved, regardless of their status except so exempted by law, arrested, detained, investigated and turned over to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.”
It is evident that this directive from the Justice Minister was directed at uninhibited talk show hosts whose utterances appear to be embarrassing the administration.
Whatever the case, Cllr. Sannoh is determined to strengthen his resolve to build in his words, “a culture of respect for the rule of law and human rights to sustain all the democratic gains we continue to make with the support of the United Nations and other multilateral and bilateral partners.”
Instructively, Cllr. Sannoh said, “I encourage all our citizens and residents to respect the law, and cooperate fully with the institutions of justice, including the courts.
“Especially in this regard, let me be clear that no one will again be permitted to show disrespect for the law, nor will anyone, for whatever reason, be allowed to take the law into [his] own hands.”
In Cllr. Sannoh’s determination to ensure peaceful co-existence, some amount of tolerance may be needed.
Tolerance and exemplary conduct on the part of the law enforcement, that is. In an attempt to neutralize any abuse of the “probable cause” by law enforcement personnel, the Justice Minister said he has “also challenged all Bureaus and Agencies of the Ministry including Prosecution to keep themselves free from any improper conduct. Law enforcement officers who violate the law that they are required to enforce, will themselves be removed from the Ministry and prosecuted so as to vindicate the integrity of the Ministry and of the law.”