Several employees of the FrontPage Africa newspaper were on the morning of Monday, April 8, 2010 arrested by both officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and constables from the Civil Law Court of the Temple of Justice.
The arrests were in connection to a US$1,850,000 “Damages for a Wrong by Attachment” lawsuit filed by two of three administrators of the Interstate administration of the late Lawrence A. Morgan.
The lawsuit, dated April 4, 2018, was filed by Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah, seeking an amount of US$500,000 as special damages, US$1,000,000 representing general damages and US$350,000 as punitive damages against the newspaper. The writ named Henry VI Morgan, Edward A. Morgan and Gbein Morgan as collaborators.
It is worthy of note that one of the parties to the lawsuit, Henry A.K. Morgan, contested the 2011 election as a representative aspirant in District 2 of Bomi County on the ticket of the Congress for Democratic Change. This political party, which was later renamed the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), is now the ruling party in full control of the Liberian government. It is led by President George Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia. It is not known whether or not he is a relation to Counselor Weah of the Weah and Associates Law Firm that filed the lawsuit against FrontPage Africa on behalf of the plaintiffs in this case.
What is very evident is that this latest civil action for damages against FrontPage Africa comes days after the Monrovia City Mayor, a loyal member of the ruling CDC and also chairman of the CDC’s Youth League, Jefferson Koijee, blasted Mr. Rodney D. Sieh, Managing Editor ofFrontPage Africa for what Koijee called “not being in the interest of the government.”
Koijee accused FrontPage Africa of engaging in “unprofessional attacks on the presidency and denigration of initiatives by the government, including negotiations of US$536 million needed for a proposed coastal highway, among others.”
Mr. Koijee warned the FrontPage Managing Editor “not to use the media to launch your selfish, cruel agenda, because Liberia needs to be developed and this is the best moment.”
Mr. Sieh recently published in his newspaper, FrontPage Africa, a series of investigative stories on activities of President George Weah’s government.
Our Judicial Correspondent, Abednego Davis, who wrote Tuesday’s story on the Civil Law Court action against FrontPage, quoted the newspaper’s lawyer, Counselor Pearl Brown Bull, as telling reporters on Monday evening that the Liberian government “was not behind the lawsuit against the newspaper.” She added, “There was no government manipulation in the lawsuit, rather two private individuals that filed the action of damages “for wrong by attachment against the newspaper and several of its employees.”
The main concern for us of the Daily Observer newspaper and even the entire media and civil society, is not so much whether the drastic action of the judge, His Honor Judge Yarmie Gbeisay of the Civil Law Court, against FrontPage Africa had anything to do with government manipulation. What for us is most alarming is why did Judge Gbeisay go so far as to arrest as many of the newspaper staff as were found at its premises, including the janitors and, in addition, shut down the newspaper!
This, we feel, was beyond the reach of justice. In normal legal procedures, defendants in a suit of libel are legally allowed 10 days after the suit has been served them to respond to a lawsuit. It is after the defendants have filed their returns, within or before the expiration of the 10 days, that the plaintiff files a reply, thereby resting pleadings. After this, assignment is issued to both parties for the disposition of law issues, in the absence of any pretrial motion. After the disposition of law issues, the case is ruled on its merits, then moved to trial.
Assuming that the defendants violated an order of the court, the worst the court could have done was to hold them in contempt, in which case, arrest is not even necessary, because it is a civil action. But that was not the case, in that the defendants never violated any court order.
This judge, however, in a tacit overreach of justice, before the newspaper had a chance even to seek legal counsel and file their returns, sent the court marshal and bailiffs to FrontPage Africa’s office, closed it down and arrested several of its editors and staff.
We consider this a travesty of justice which, moreover, is a classic case of judicial tyranny.
It would be interesting to see what Chief Justice Korkpor and his colleagues on the Supreme Court Bench will do in this case, to reassure the media, civil society and the nation as a whole that such reprehensible judicial behavior is not to be tolerated and that Liberia’s courts of law are established to mete out justice, and justice alone, not tyranny.