The question of whether or not the Liberian government will re-open the Chronicle Newspaper now rests with the Supreme Court, after the High Court yesterday listened to final arguments in the matter.
The Chronicle Newspaper through the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), early last year, appealed to the High Court for a “Writ of Prohibition” seeking its approval to compel the Liberian government to see reason to have it re-opened.
In that request, the PUL legal team, headed by Cllr. Syrenius Cephas, argued that the court should reverse government’s decision on the “continuous and illegal closure of the paper.”
The Chronicle Newspaper was closed after government said some of its publications were allegedly inciting and treasonable.
After listening to yesterday’s arguments, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor did not mention when the ruling in the case would be announced.
He said, “The matter is adjourned and we would give our ruling based on a notice of assignment.”
But, during the arguments, only four of the five justices of the Supreme Court were present.
Responding to government lawyer’s argument that the PUL shouldn’t have brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Chronicle Newspaper, Cllr. Cephas said the PUL acted within the confines of the law.
“We took the legal action against government because of our mandate to defend press freedom in the country and whenever a member of the union is under attack then press freedom is also under attacked,” he said in his argument.
Apart from defending press freedom, the PUL lawyer said the owner of the newspaper, Philibert Browne, wrote the union complaining against the the Liberia National Police (LNP) for closing down his institution in the absence of a court warrant.
Cllr. Cephas also quoted Browne’s communication as saying, “Police officers barricaded, fired tear gas and subsequently broke into our office. They arrested two of my staff members and took them into custody. They even took some of our computers and accessories away.” He put the cost of damages as high as US$100,000.
In her counter argument, Solicitor General Cllr. Betty Lamin Blamo, on behalf of the Liberian government, said “It was unconstitutional for the PUL to have filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Chronicle Newspaper.”
Defending her statement, Cllr. Blamo argued that the paper is a legal entity registered with the Ministry of Information and as such, it should have taken the action on its own and not hidden under the umbrella of the PUL.
According to her, the paper wrote several articles, which she alleged were “treasonable.”
Two of their publications, under the captions, “New Interim Government for Liberia Soon,” and “The Last Days of President Sirleaf,” she claimed, were intended to create chaos and instability in the country.
Dispelling rumors about the banning of Browne from travelling outside the country, the Solicitor General argued that they did not stop him from travelling.
She said, they advised him not to leave the country because of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus and for his personal safety.
She further argued that the publications came at a time when the Liberian government had instituted several measures aimed at tackling the spread of the virus, which allegedly could have created chaos in the country.