Gongloe Warns Weah’s Gov’t
Counselor Tiawan Gongloe yesterday reminded President George Weah that his government needs to respect the constitutional provision which guarantees and protects freedom of expression.
Gongloe said the 1986 Constitution guarantees to all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression; and those rights should not be restricted except on grounds of public order which is valid only when there is a close connection between the speech and public disorder and when there is an imminent threat of lawlessness.
“These are elements of democracy; once you are not taking up arms or other weaponry to harm people and just expressing yourself nobody has any right to arrest you for that,” Gongloe indicated.
Gongloe, also a rights advocate, made the assertion at the main campus of the University of Liberia (UL) where he addressed students who had gathered there to celebrate the immediate release of four of their leaders held by authorities of the Liberia National Police (LNP) the day before yesterday.
On Monday, July 23, UL Student Union (ULSU) President Flomo Mau, Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY) President Augustine Tamba, Amos Williams, and Seawon Lawaiyee were arrested for allegedly disrupting the Youth Interactive Forum that was held at the Monrovia City Hall.
The forum, which brought together international partners and members of the student population, was organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sport (MYS) as part of the nation’s 171st Independence Day Celebration.
Addressing the students, Gongloe advised them to be respectful and to conduct themselves within the confines of the law.
“I know that people would resist your advocacy but, once it is done according to the law, we are going to protect you as we did with some current government officials.” Gongloe’s utterance was greeted with cheers from the students.
Gongloe recounted that he once served as lawyer for some present government officials, making specific reference to Mulbah Morlu, chairman of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).
“I was one of those lawyers who freed Morlu from prison when he was abused by the past regime, and I always told him that his commitment was to ensure that everybody’s rights should be respected and no young people should go to jail because of their free expression,” Gongloe said, recollecting his conversation with Morlu. “But, you can see that within six months or so students are being sent to jail, and that needs to stop.”
According to Gongloe, before the release, he had consulted with the Minister of Justice Frank Musa Dean and Solicitor General Cllr. Daku Mulbah about the arrest of the students.
“I think it was based on that intervention that the students’ were released, but we need to stop arresting people for expressing themselves publicly,” he intoned.
Article 15(a) of the Liberian Constitution states that, “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.”
(b) also provides that, “The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.”
In a press statement yesterday, the students said they categorically and vehemently condemn the flogging and subsequent arrest of student and youth leaders on orders of Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee.
SUP wants to duly inform the Liberian people and the International Community that the government of ex-Soccer Star George M. Weah has become severely brutal against peaceful students, youth leaders, and unarmed civilians.
The statement further said just in a period of less than 6 months, there has been a countless number of recorded instances of police brutality across Liberia, especially in Monrovia.
“Ex-Soccer Legend Weah and his heavily armed policemen under the Inspector-ship of Patrick Sudue are on a well-planned mission to revert the democratic gains of Liberia made since August 2003,” the statement noted, adding: “The underpaid and salary-delayed police officers, especially from PSU and ERU, have been using lethal and disproportionate force against peaceful citizens including students, youth leaders, journalists, and unarmed civilians.
“SUP calls on all its militants to be vigilant, resolute and fearless in as much as the government of this President remains intolerant and insensitive to free speech, the rule of law, and the true tenets of democracy. We will not allow any further harassment, intimidation, and infliction of casualties on our people”.
It can be recalled that in less than 6 months under President Weah, the Liberia National Police has, according to sources, invaded the campuses of the University of Liberia more than 8 different times. During these arbitrary raids, unarmed students were flogged, harassed, injured, and arrested.