PUL Praises President Weah’s Re-submission of Bill to Repeal Anti-Free Speech Laws

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PUL President Charles B. Coffey, Jr.

The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) is delighted to learn of President George Weah’s re-submission to the Legislature seeking “to repeal some sections of the Penal Law of Liberia in an effort to decriminalize free speech and create an unfettered media environment,”  a PUL release said yesterday.

The bill seeks to amend Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President; 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence.

According to the release issued in response to the re-submission, the PUL said, it “sees this latest presidential action as efforts aimed to decriminalize speech offenses in Liberia as a jump start to enhancing freedom of expression.”

The Union is honored by the professed goodwill of President Weah to name the draft criminal repeal in honor of PUL immediate past President, the late Kamara Abdullai Kamara (KAK) in recognition of the fallen free speech activist.

K. Abdullai Kamara was an outstanding voice in the advocacy to improve the legal and operational environment of the media, and the PUL commends President Weah for the recognition.

The PUL has also commended the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives for introducing the bill seeking to repeal some sections of Liberia’s Criminal Penal Code.

The bill was introduced in the House on Tuesday and sent to the House’s Committee on Judiciary for study and report to plenary in two weeks.

The repeal action, when effected, will not represent removing from the books the act of defamation, but will allow people their constitutional right to seek redress in civil courts when feeling offended by orations and writings, the release said.

It may be recalled that President Weah on May 31, resubmitted to the Legislature a bill with modifications, to repeal some sections of the Penal Law of Liberia in an effort to decriminalize free speech and create an unfettered media environment.

“Honorable Speaker, Chapter 111, Article 15 of the Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression and a caveat of an abuse thereof. Additionally, Liberia is a signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration which demands that African countries abolish insult and criminal defamation law,” President Weah said.

An identical communication was addressed and delivered to the Senate.

He reminded the lawmakers of the legal instruments on press freedom Liberia established, such as the Freedom of Information Law (FOI) and the Independent Information Commission. “Liberia, in anticipation of fully adhering to these legal instruments, enacted the FOI Law and established the Freedom of Information Commission,” the president said.

However, there are challenges in the full implementation of these as Section 11.11: Criminal Libel against the President; Section 11.12: Sedition; and Section 11.14: Criminal Malevolence of the Penal Laws of Liberia that tend to impede freedom of speech and expression and acts committed thereof which are considered to be criminal.”

If enacted into law, the Act will be known as the Kamara Abdullai Kamara (KAK) Act of Press Freedom, in honor of journalist Kamara, (deceased) former PUL President.

President Weah emphasized the important role Mr. Kamara played in convincing national government to repeal provisions on the Penal Law of Liberia, which impede freedom of speech and independence of the press in Liberia but did not succeed.

‘Therefore, the purpose of this Act is to repeal sections of the Penal Laws that have a tendency of making Liberia non-compliant,” President Weah underscored.

The president described the action is a proof of his government’s commitment to upholding the Constitution, Table Mountain Declaration and other international treaties relating to the media and press-related activities.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. PUL “sees this latest presidential action… as a jump start to enhancing freedom of expression”, is a grateful response. Anyway, some suspect the organization wants freedom of expression without regard for its limitations and responsibilities. For instance, when EJS signed the Table Mountain Declaration, she “cautioned” then PUL President Peter Quaqua as follows:

    “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…”

    Seemingly, PUL neither wanted to “establish self-regulating measures”, nor interested in ensuring that the “media acts responsibly”, hence her refusal in going as far as President Weah has gone. But should PUL think that this gesture is a capitulation to anti-government media frenzy, hence wants to have a big cake and eat it too as in the past, fake news could cost Liberian journalism its credibility.

    The UN Special Rapporteur, who visited in March, repeated PUL’s obligation in establishing “self-regulating measures”. And serving as keynote speaker at the graduation of journalism students, the Public Affairs Officer of the US Embassy in Monrovia noted that journalism plays a “major role in society” and admonished them to make “objectivity, truth-telling, and unbiased reporting the hallmark of their career”.

    Needless to say, he must have recognized a dearth in the country of those indispensable ethical requirements of the profession, an indictment no doubt.

    Some of us aren’t going to shut up; we too dabbled in journalism, root for its respectability, and yet aware of the destabilizing potential in the hands of unscrupulous politico-cum-hustling practitioners. After all, ‘fake news’ is presently polarizing the US we Liberians copy, and ‘hate news’ stoked and drove the Rwandan genocidal war. If these respectively sobering and tragic outcomes aren’t enough reasons for PUL to “establish self-regulating measures”, or practicing journalists be mindful of limitations and responsibilities of freedom of expression in a “fragile, factious, and fraught” Liberia, I can’t imagine what would.

    To end, in as much as journalists are major public opinion influencers, it would be a stretch for them to believe that only their opinions matter. Unfortunately, many of our media personalities think so. It explains why the relationship between the press and government is more adversarial at home than other countries of the Mano River Union. Of course, ours have to do better for some cooperation with government, and concord in the country. The press can hold government accountable without hysteria and misleading reporting!

  2. Just find somewhere and sit down, Sylvester. You think Liberia has forgotten you and your role in Doe’s notorious NSA?

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