Chapter Three of the Liberian Constitution deals exclusively with fundamental rights of all Liberian citizens. The Chapter encompasses rights to freedom of assembly, of conscience, freedom of speech and of the press and freedom of movement, amongst others.
These freedoms all have several conditions attached to them. For example, the freedom to assemble in Article 17 states that when people assemble, they must do so in an orderly and a peaceable manner. The freedom to move and reside in any part of Liberia sets aside the responsibility of those moving not to carry out any act that will threaten the wellbeing of others.
There are also conditions attached to freedom of speech and of the press which, while all Liberians have the right to exercise, they are responsible for the abuse thereof.
Although all these conditions are attached to the freedoms the Liberian Constitution gives us, it is unfortunate that many of us misunderstand freedom and at times abuse it without remembering that such abuse undermines the stability of the state.
This is exactly what supporters of Sheikh A. Kouyateh did at the Temple of Justice on September 5.
Our Judicial Reporter, Abednego Davis, reported in our September 6 edition that Kouyateh’s belligerent supporters blocked the convoy of the Chief Justice of Liberia and prevented him from entering his office. The Liberia National Police (LNP) had to come in and force them off the Temple of Justice premises.
According to Reporter Davis, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor’s convoy had to retreat to use the headquarters of the LNP to enter through the basement of the Temple.
The protesters were quoted as having said that the Monrovia City Court should not have dropped charges against General Services Agency Director General Mary Broh for what transpired between her and Kouyateh in August.
While those protesters have the right and freedom to assemble, we wonder what right they had to block the Chief Justice of Liberia from entering the courtyard. If dropping charges against the GSA Director were not to be, is it the Chief Justice against whom they should have vented their anger? What about citizens’ right guaranteed by the Constitution to seek redress in a higher court? Why did they not exercise that right?
Freedom does not mean having the will to do anything that one pleases, but to think and act carefully, realizing that one citizen’s rights end where another citizen’s rights begin.
Have these protesters forgotten that people fought for the freedoms we all enjoyed today? Or are we trying to say that they wasted their time, effort and even blood in vain? Classic examples of those who were jailed, suffered humiliation and flogging for the freedom Liberians are enjoying are the late Albert Porte and our sitting President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Albert Porte as a writer is on record for writing, without fear of imprisonment, against the mistakes of President William V.S. Tubman. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf challenged the administration of Presidents William R. Tolbert and Samuel Doe and spent time in prison where she was severely humiliated by AFL Soldiers.
There are many others who died for their rights and ours that we enjoy today.
We cite these instances to let Kouyateh’s supporters know how others sacrificed for the freedom they (Kouyateh’s supporters) are enjoying, even to the extent of engaging in hooliganism and disrespect for constituted authority.
In the days of William V.S. Tubman (1944-1971), there were “Public Relations Officers” assigned almost everywhere giving information to Tubman on anyone engaging in the slightest criticism of him. People were immediately whisked off to jail, with no questions asked.
Convicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor is on the record for saying, “If you mother never born you correctly, get in the streets.”
Could Kouyateh’s supporters, who blocked a sitting Chief Justice from entering his office ever have, dared to challenge any of Charles Taylor’s officials during his incumbency? We all know the lesson the Special Operation Division (SOD) officers would have taught you.
But today, people sit home and call on the radio to insult the President of the country. They get in the streets to protest violently and even stone officials’ vehicles.
We hope Kouyateh’s supporters will read and understand the Liberian Constitution and exercise responsibly the freedoms it guarantees us all. These people must stop acting with such incivility and lawlessness as they exhibited at the Temple of Justice last Monday.