PUL Condemns Raid on FPA Newspaper

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PUL President Charles Coffey

Describes action as creeping return of the old tactics

The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has said it is shocked about Monday’s raid on the offices of FrontPage Africa (FPA) newspaper on the orders of authorities of the Monrovia Civil Law Court.

Early Monday, sheriffs from the Court, in a move to enforce a writ of summons against the FPA, arrested all its employees, including cleaners and an expediter.

The Union views the arrest, which hampered the normal operations of the paper, as an embarrassing posture of a court charged with the responsibility of maintaining the peace through the dispensation of justice.

It is unacceptable that the rights of journalists and media workers are beginning to be violated under the pretexts of civil lawsuits when the underlining motives are rooted in intolerance for dissent and freedom of the independent press, the Union stresses.

The PUL sees the latest incident as a ruse, “because to file a civil suit with an attachment is a replay of ploys of the immediate past, which imprisoned journalists on dreadful defamation damages.”

The PUL said merits of the civil suit, which disrupted work of the FPA newspaper on Monday, April 9, cannot pass the minimum reasoning to warrant the sort of power exercised except being accompanied by deep seated prejudice of faceless powers.

“For employees of a newspaper to be seized like common criminals in the absence of a writ of execution, and the use of a criminal attachment (legal instrument) in a democracy is a shame,” the Union insists.

Meanwhile, the PUL is most respectfully asking Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor to mandate an end to defamation suits with attachment, because it punishes before listening to the accused.

Liberia signed the Table Mountain Declaration on 21 July 2012, vowing to repeal criminal defamation or ‘insult’ laws. Almost six years on, journalists are being jailed and persecuted by mainly political leaders of the country using criminal defamation as means of silencing critical voices.

Gov’t denial

The government yesterday refuted allegations that it influenced the arrest of journalists of FrontPage Africa (FPA) newspaper, which it said has recently been critical of President George Weah.

Journalists and editors of FrontPage Africa newspaper were on Monday morning arrested from their offices by court sheriffs, and detained at the Civil Law Court before a lawyer secured their released on the same day.

In a story written on their website, FrontPage explained that they were being harassed because of a civil lawsuit for actions of damages amounting to over US$1 million.

“Contrary to the erroneous claims that inundated social media platforms and other news outlets on Monday, the legal suit against the entity was one of a private nature between the FPA and Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah,” the newspaper’s management said.

The suit filed against the newspaper follows publication of an ‘erroneous’ survey advertisement published in the paper on Friday, March 16, 2018.

The advertiser and the two men now suing FrontPage, Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah, were both joint administrators to a piece of land.

Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah consequently sought a retraction of the advertisement, which FrontPage says it did on March 23. The retraction was however not enough, thus the suit against the advertiser and FrontPage as a second defendant was issued by the court.

In a statement issued by the Information Ministry, the government sought to clarify that it had not ordered the arrest of FrontPage’s staff.

‘‘Contrary to the erroneous claims that inundated social media platforms and other news outlets on Monday, the legal suit against the entity was one of a private nature between the FPA and Henry A.K Morgan and Moses T. Konah,” read part of the statement.

FrontPage however insisted that the government engineered Monday’s raid, arguing that the offending advertisement had been published in many other newspapers, yet only the FPA newspaper was singled out by the suit.

‘‘The government’s actions today will not keep us from doing our investigative work, but will only strengthen us to do more,” the management of the paper said.

Through a statement issued on their Facebook page, FrontPage also pointed out that Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe is on record for having criticized the newspaper for not publishing any positive stories about the new government.

FrontPage has recently published different stories critical of President Weah, including his refusal to declare his assets in disregard to the Code of Conduct and highlighting the unforeseen consequences of Liberia’s US$536 million loan secured through an undisclosed memorandum of understanding signed in Hong Kong.

Authors

3 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. P. Allison Tarlue, Sr., knowing fully well about the unprofessionalism of some in the criminal justice and judiciary systems, why are you misapplying Caesar’s shocked question to a godson striking the most fatal blow – unimagined betrayal; by the way, what does the President have to do with lawsuit or whatever?

    Not to veer off, although the present US $1.8 million FPA brouhaha is an example of overzealouness – on the part of judge and cops – running amok, PUL should pull up its socks to serve members. For instance, when in July 2012 EJS signed the Table Mountain Declaration “replacing statutes under which journalists and media practitioners may be prosecuted as criminal defendants for criminal defamation”, she cautioned then PUL President Mr. Quaqua:

    “You must now act to establish self-regulating measures, as many other countries have done, to ensure that the media acts responsibly by the granting of these freedoms. Both of us have that responsibility, if this Declaration will be more than the piece of paper that I sign, or we can make it a live instrument to protect the rights of all, journalists as well as any other citizen”.

    David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur, repeated the same quoting others about PUL’s obligation for establishing “self-regulating measures” when he visited Liberia, six years later, in March 2018. This failure to clean house could’ve been responsible for the inability of PUL to lobby the past government introduce a bill that would’ve followed the intent and spirit of the Table Mountain Decalaration. Oh Well, let’s admit it, out of ignorance, we huffed and puffed that EJS was a signatory yet reneged on decriminalizing the relevant laws.

    To leave this page, should in case anyone is wondering why some of us are worried about adversarial relationship between government and the press; primarily, because it distracts from policy initiatives, widens polarization, drives tension, and threatens stability. For whether goverment versus the press or police versus public, confrontations of that nature have unforeseen consequences. And lest some US-based Liberians forget, our country cannot withstand the shocks tribal journalism have wrought on America since November 2016: Stop the caustic cheerleading, countrymen.

  2. Allison Tarlue: “Et-tu George Weah?”
    What that has to do with anything in this matter? This is a shame.

    “PUL Condemns Raid on FPA Newspaper”
    What “Raid” ?
    Did the leadership of PUL take a moment to investigate before going public, to condemn the so-called raid? What we need to understand in Liberia, is that, Press Freedom is not an excuse for a media institution to be rude and disrespectful to any court of competent jurisdiction. All the FPA Newspaper staff had to do was to sign the Precepts, and follow directives of the court.
    This is called “The Rule of law ”
    Thanks to Counselor Bull for her competence. For example:The learned Counselor arrived in court, appealed for a bond for her clients, and took responsibility for those who signed the Precepts of the Civil Law Court.
    Refusal to follow the directives of a court of competent jurisdiction is considered a contempt of court. In order to protect the rule of law, the courts must be respected at all times, and by all, without any exceptions whatsoever.
    So, your honor; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia, it is your responsibility to protect the judges and court officials. They have to be strong, and not weak.
    And, leadership of Press Union of Liberia, the courts cannot discharge their responsibilities of peacefully dispensing justice, if court officials will continue to be disrespected and challenged while lawfully performing their duties.

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