During her 11 years as President of Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has never had an Attorney General like this who threatens journalists with prosecution under laws which, as an erstwhile “human rights lawyer,” he should know are draconian and even unconstitutional.
But that is exactly what Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh did last Tuesday. He told an Information Ministry press briefing that the government would “prosecute journalists involved in blatant and deliberate reporting of falsehood which have the propensity to create chaos in the society.”
First question: Who determines what is “ethical” and what is not? How “ethical” was the Liberian government, under the watchful eyes of Justice Minister Sannoh, in organizing a hasty and sketchy “autopsy” report on the remains of Harry A. Greaves, former Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company?
Does the Justice Minister not realize that he serves a government “of the people” and not only a bunch of well-paid bureaucrats?
Everything any member of that government does, from the President on down, is constitutionally under the watchful eyes of the people. No government functionary can shove down the people’s throats any opinion, decision or action. Every government official must realize that he or she is serving us, the people, and that the government’s every opinion, decision or action must be seen by the people to be credible. If it is not, then the people have a right to question it and demand redress.
That is why the Minister should understand why the Liberian people are suspicious of the so-called autopsy on the remains of Mr. Greaves. Has Minister Sannoh not yet realized that nobody believes that autopsy? If not, then where has he been? Is he sleeping? Or is he in denial of reality?
Remember Jesus’ immortal admonition: “Before you pull the mote out of someone else’s eye, take the beam out of your own eye.”
By threatening the media with prosecution, the Minister seems to be attempting to take cover in the face of what he knows is an autopsy that many Liberian people and media outlets find totally unacceptable.
He is also attempting to take cover from the glaring and persistent corruption in this government, typified by NOCAL’s bankruptcy under the President’s son Robert Sirleaf’s watch.
Instead of attempting to threaten the press with prosecution, Mr. Sannoh should encourage his government to come clean to the public with everything—and that includes the GOL’s acknowledgement of the urgent need for an audit of NOCAL, so that the people may know what happened to their money.
In making that assertion, the Daily Observer stands ready to be accused by Minister Sannoh of inciting the public.
In this connection, who determines what “blatant and deliberate reporting of falsehood” is, and its “propensity to create chaos in the society”?
Does the Minister not realize that many of this government’s actions—such as granting freedom to convicted Lebanese rapists and sending them on vacation in Lebanon— are laden with the propensity to create chaos in the society? Which country is there that will see its women disgracefully defiled by anyone, foreigners in particular, with impunity and remain silent?
Does Minister Sannoh know that many people, in response to some of the government’s serious blunders, have over the past few years called for an interim government, an idea this newspaper, the Daily Observer, has rejected because it would, as did all the other interim governments, take matters in the country from bad to worse?
Yet the government continues to tantalize (provoke) the people by its continuous ineptitude, such as the handling of the whole Harry Greaves tragedy. Surely the Minister, being the President’s chief legal counselor, should have advised her to undertake an immediate, thorough and comprehensive investigation into Harry Greaves’ disappearance and how his body came to be dumped behind the former Planning Ministry with a deep hole in the head and rectal bleeding. Instead of imprisoning Mr. Greaves’ driver for a week, the Minister should have investigated him and the entire RLJ staff, to determine what happened to him from the time he entered those premises until his body was found on its beach and elsewhere later.
We make this suggestion because we believe the government should be interested in its citizens, an intelligent and prominent one like Greaves being no exception. But GOL’s utter disinterest in the matter until Greaves’ body was found at the former Planning Ministry beach could be interpreted as being highly suspicious. Why the government’s disinterest?
And why did GOL hire a highly questionable team of pathologists—those who did the highly controversial work on Angel Tokpa—an autopsy that most Liberian people believed was botched (bungled, inferior). What was GOL’s motive in hiring them?
This is among the many ethical questions Minister Sannoh has to answer on behalf of his government. He should not turn back the clock and take us to the days of Jenkins Scott and all the other notorious and ruthless attorneys general who, by their unprincipled and oppressive actions, cast themselves into the dustbin of history. Remember how Jenkins Scott died?
These notorious AGs have all gone and will continue to go. 35 years and counting, the Daily Observer, along with the rest of the Liberian media, however, are still here, doing what we can under very difficult circumstances, to help the beloved country move forward.