Judge Faryiah Ruled In Favor Of The Heritage Newspaper

By Josephus Moses Gray
Monrovia, Liberia

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

March 5, 2004

March 3, 2004, is a day of history making for the struggling Liberia press as one of the local newspapers - the Heritage Newspaper, won a legal battle in the case " The HERITAGE Newspaper Versus The Republic of Liberia". This is the first victory for a local daily in the history of the country, which many described as a "test to a true democracy".

In his ruling on March 3, 2004, at the Temple of Justice on capitol Hill, Stipendiary Magistrate Joseph S. Faryiah termed the writ of arrest as " defective", stating that those taken to court by the Liberian Government through the Ministry of Justice were not the rightful defendants.

The judge said the government should have taken the Heritage Corporation to court instead of employees of the newspaper, adding that the wrong people were arrested and taken to court. Magistrate Faryiah ’s ruling followed days of legal arguments by both legal counsels, with The Heritage’s legal counsels filing a motion to dismiss the case in favor of the defendants on grounds that those arrested were mere employees, and as such, they should not be held liable for the wrong doing of the corporation.

In his arguments, The Heritage legal counsel Fumba Sheri, a political science professor at the University of Liberia, said the Ministry of Justice, which sued on behalf of the Liberian Government filed the lawsuit against his clients, acted as the prosecution, the witness, the jury, the arresting office and jailer of defendant. According to him, the Ministry cannot appear in court to argue the case.

But government prosecutors led by County Attorney Blamo Dixon argued that it was not legal for the judge to dismiss the case based on defense counsels’ argument. He argued the prosecution has evidence to prosecute the Heritage for " disseminating obscene materials."

Magistrate Faryiah said there was a defect in the institution and service of the writ of arrest, adding that it should have been a writ of summons in accordance with the laws of the Republic. He told the court that the Government erred and misused justice in that instance, propounding further he stated that the Government should not have taken the employees of the Heritage to court, instead of the corporation.

Magistrate Faryiah said that the Government also erred when it arrested the Newspaper Managing Editor Mohammad Kanneh and other staff members of the paper. Additionally, Judge Faryiah stated that the Government should have prayed for a proper writ of summons to be served on the Heritage Newspaper (Corporation).

Consequently, the judge ruled the court sustained the Heritage counsels' motion to dismiss the case Heritage Newspaper Versus The republic of Liberia, and mandated that the L$1,000.00 bond of the defendants be immediately returned to the Heritage

Recently, the court ordered the arrest of the entire staff of the independent Heritage newspaper for publishing a sex scandal story under the banner headline, “ For US$400.00-Liberian Girls Sex With Dogs”.

The National transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) through its regulatory arm - the Ministry of Justice - mandated the stipendiary Magistrate Court at the Temple of Justice to arrest and detain the entire staff of the independent Heritage newspaper for what the government termed as “dissemination of obscene materials”.

The Heritage’s staffers ordered arrested were Mohammad Kanneh, Managing Editor; J. Alfred Chea, Editor-In-Chief; Nathan Bengu, sub-Editor; Augustus Bortu, News Editor, Meekie McKay, Sale Manager and Massa Sambola, Sale Representative.

In its February 16th edition, the Heritage newspaper carried an article entitled ”Liberian Girls Sex with Dogs” in which the paper quoted Mr. George Dweh, Speaker of the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA), as saying that he saw a video made in Monrovia by an Ukrainian investors and operatives of a Logging company -Exotic. Speaker Dweh was further quoted as saying that while viewing the film he saw dogs having sexual intercourse with Liberian girls. According to the speaker, this act took place during the regime of the deposed President Charles Taylor.

Following the court orders, the paper’s Managing Editor and Sale Representative, Mr. Kannah and Madam McKay were arrested and arraigned before the Stipendiary Magistrate, Judge Joseph S. Fayaih. They were, however, released the same day after the paper’s legal counselor filed a cash bond of L$1,000.00 (US$20.00).

In the warrant, the Ministry of Justice accused the paper of selling obscene materials to the public and described the Heritage newspaper publication as” unlawful, illegal, criminal and a transgression of Section 18.7 of the Penal Law of Liberia.