Free Speech And Expression Are Basic Rights Guaranteed
By The Liberian Constitution
A Joint Position Statement Issued By
The Liberian Democratic Future (LDF) And
The Coalition Of Progressive Liberians In The Americas (COPLA)
The officers and members of the Liberian Democratic Future (LDF) and the Coalition of Progressive Liberians in the Americas (COPLA) firmly believe that the violation of the rights of an individual or a people, which is not called into question, is likely to be repeated. We, therefore, call upon the Liberian authorities to free and exonerate Mr. James D. Torh of Sedition. Like most freedom-loving people the world over, we strongly believe Mr. Torh did not commit Sedition. The speech for which Mr. Torh was charged is an inherent part of the guarantees provided by the Liberian Constitution. Some of these guarantees are the rights to free speech and expression.
That is why we are profoundly disturbed over the charge of Sedition brought against Mr. Torh who was arrested for exercising his constitutional and God-given rights. While addressing students at the William V. S. Tubman High School, Mr. Torh said that the Liberian government was being run from Taylor's pocket. He further noted that while the government claims to have no money, many expensive cars are seen around the streets of Monrovia. Mr. Torh also noted that Charles Taylor has failed the Liberian people and those who voted for Mr. Taylor should repent. It can be recalled that President Taylor made similar statement in 1998, after his first year in office, that his government failed the Liberian people. To persecute Mr. Torh for simply uttering his opinions is a betrayal of the public trust imposed in a government elected to ensure that the people's constitutional rights are upheld.
Furthermore, Mr. Torh's arrest by Taylor's Mafia police shows how easily the Liberian judicial and law enforcement systems are really "in the pocket of Mr. Taylor." Moreover, it is one thing to claim to have been elected in a free and fair election sanctioned by the international community; yet, it is another to be impervious of the freedom of expression of those who elected the present administration. This practice by the Taylor government best exemplifies a double standard and blatant disrespect for the Constitution.
In this regard, we draw from an excerpt of a statement President Taylor provided to the United Nations fact-finding Mission to Liberia on May 21, 1998, regarding the September 18 - 19, 1998, Camp Johnson Road Incident. The statement reads:
That his entire adult life has been dedicated to fight for freedom and human dignity. Towards this end, he participated in the formation and leadership of an organization known as the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) whose aims and objectives were to promote democracy, justice and equality in Liberia.
He stated further that:
This commitment was concretely expressed when he, inter alia, spearheaded a demonstration against President William Tolbert at the United Nations (New York) to draw the world attention to the necessity and urgency for political reforms in Liberia. This resulted in an invitation from the Tolbert government to the Union for a dialogue on political change. He headed the delegation and while home, the coup d'etat occurred in April 1980 which overthrew the Tolbert government.
While we question the veracity of these statements coming from a man with total disregard for the truth, we wonder what has plunged Taylor from a self-styled human rights campaigner to one of the worst killers on the African Continent. Several reasons can account for this:
1. That Taylor has seen it fit to arrest a man expressing his freedom of speech in stating that this "President" runs the government from his pocket. Comparing the facts makes it easier to know the prevailing situation in the country. Liberia's current chief of the Maritime funds in London, the country's main cash provider since Taylor looted the entire country, is his concubine and wartime wife, Agnes Reeves "Taylor". There is an underground government that runs Liberia - a country described by a member of an international donor team, which visited the country, as a land of "swindlers." Crime has become a main political tool in a country destroyed for, as Mr. Taylor puts it, "reforms" since he claims to have fought for reforms throughout his adult life, something so far from the truth.
2. The arrest of Mr. Torh for exercising his constitutional rights defeats those who believe that Liberia has a vibrant culture of freedom of the press and of speech. This is all the more reason the international community should continue to tighten screws on this fascist regime that uses the "law" to suit its designs.
3. We applaud those decent Liberians who continue to resist tyranny, extend our solidarity and commend them for not yielding to threats and blackmail as is evident with many the country once saw as moral opinion leaders. We will hold Mr. Taylor responsible for Mr. Torh and his family's safety as we pursue means to bring Taylor and Company before an international tribunal for having reduced Liberians to the worst beggars since Liberia became a nation
The noble ideals espoused by Taylor the student are the same ideals Taylor the president violates. Thus, he has become his own worse enemy. In this respect, he has failed miserably to abide by his oath of office, which is "to support, uphold, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Liberia, bear true faith and allegiance to the Republic; and will faithfully, conscientiously and impartially discharge the duties and function of the office of the President." Equally so, Mr. Taylor has violated Sections a, b and c of Article 15 that guarantee freedom of speech and of the Press.
These sections read:
a) Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof this right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with the Constitution.
b) The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to acknowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impact knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.
c) In pursuance of this right, there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries.
Cognizant of these salient principles enshrined within our Constitution, it is quite apparent that the Government of Liberia (GOL) acting out of vindictiveness and irrational impulse, has undermined the constitutional basis for its trumped-up charge of Sedition against Mr. James D. Torh. The GOL has resorted to rambunctious politics to repress freedom of speech and punish those it perceives as "anti-government."
We are deeply concerned and troubled that the right to freedom of speech, the one and only constitutional means by which the electorate can express their displeasure with the government is being violated with impunity by the Taylor government.
Based on these numerous concerns, it appears that the Taylor administration is at cross-purpose with the interest of the Liberian people. And while there is a need to respect authority, it is equally criminal to violate the Constitution and human rights of others.
We, therefore, urge the Liberian authorities, and President Taylor in particular, to free and exonerate Mr. James D. Torh of Sedition.
We further wish to remind the Taylor administration of a Ghanaian proverb which says, "The ruin of a nation begins in the home of its people"; and that the five fingers on the hand must cooperate in order to smoothly perform their collective responsibilities.
Finally, we are reminded by the late Albert Porte that "Liberians will always be looked down upon, despised by other nations and peoples, unless as a people, we be courageous enough to cry loudly against existing evils, and our leader be tolerant enough to face our problems calmly and dispassionately, and together we have them remedied. We cannot delay and wait for others to do these things for us and still expect to maintain our dignity and self-respect as a nation..."
For the Greater Good of the Liberian People, we remain their devoted servants,
Bodioh Wisseh Siapoe
National Chairman, COPLA
Issued this 7th day of January, 2000, in the State of Georgia, USA
CC: President Bill Clinton
U. N. General Assembly
U. S. State Department
U. S. Congress
Economic Community of West African States
The Organization of African Unity
Liberian Permanent Mission to the U. N.
The Liberian Embassy, Washington, DC
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
The Carter Center
Atlanta Journal and Constitution
Amnesty International, UK
Amnesty International, USA
New York Times
Africa News Service
British Broadcasting Corporation
British Broadcasting Corporation
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