Monday, November 21, 2011

My Take On The Court Ruling Against The Media

By: Sam Zota, Jr. Judicial Reporter, THE NEWS Newspaper Monrovia, Liberia

On Tuesday, November 15, Judge James Zotaa, Jr., Resident Judge of the First Judicial Circuit Court ‘A’ at the Temple of Justice ruled against four media institutions for spreading ‘hate messages of violence’ in the wake of last week riot between the Liberia National Police and supporters of the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) which left at least one person dead and several others wounded.
The Judge, without stating what constitutes “hate messages of violence”, also ordered the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) to revoke the permits and licenses of any media institution that promotes the airing, broadcasting and publication of ‘hate messages of violence’ in the future.
This mandate from the criminal court presided over by one of Liberia’s top judges, now squarely places the ball in the court of the government through the Ministry of Information to determine what is ‘hate messages of violence.’
I believe that the decision by Judge Zotaa to have ruled against the media without clear definition of the term ‘hate message’ is a clever attempt by the government to censor the media in Liberia.
In order to avoid situations that tend to put the media against the government and the creation of self-censorship on journalists in their reportorial duties, the court needed to have clearly stated those things that constitute hate message, incitement and others.
This, in my opinion, is a press freedom trap that has been set by the Government of Liberia to entrap media institutions that the government feels would not be dancing according to their tunes.
This decision compels journalists to be careful about how to express their views on issues that would run contrary to the positions of government. In other words, since there isn’t clear definition on what constitutes hate message, I see it as a trap that could entangle journalists in the future. Without a clear definition, it places the media in an uncomfortable position to report on issues and actions that tend to oppose government’s position.
While I do not intend in any way to question or disagree with the judgment or ruling of the judge against the four media institutions, however, what we (journalists) had anticipated was clear interpretation of the law.
Granted that this instance case was not a regular trial but rather a conference hearing, it equally needed proper interpretation like any other matter.
The Judge, who received the evidence from prosecution lawyers, adjourned the hearing for the following day (Tuesday). Journalists had also anticipated that the judge would have entertained argument into the production of the evidence by the state. Instead, he reviewed the evidence in his chamber and came out with a ruling.
Although the judge did not allow evidence produced by prosecution lawyers to be heard in open court, strangely, at the closing of the case, he said it was warranted to have adjudged the media institutions because they had broadcast hate messages that posed a threat to the security of the state. He also stated that actions of the media institutions were punishable under the law and that the court would not institute any penalty for what he called “ensuring press freedom as guaranteed under the Constitution, making sure that freedom of press prevails.”
Judge Zotaa stated in his ruling that the conducts of the media institutions were criminal under Liberian Penal Code of 1972, and was an indictable offense, without citing specific sections or articles of the penal code. The above statement by the judge needed clarity which also puts media institutions in doubt.
The crowd of journalists, students and ordinary Liberians, who gathered at the hearing on Tuesday, did not only come to witness court proceedings, but to get clearer pictures and understanding of what constitutes hate messages and incitements.
I am of the conviction that most, if not, all of those who attended the hearing, left the court room with doubts and with no understanding about what the law says about what constitutes ‘hate message’.
In conclusion, I strongly believe that the judge needed to have done more good by giving an interpretation that would avoid placing the media in a state of fear and self-censorship.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pastors End Service In Liberia

…Pray For Violence Free Elections
Two pastors from the Community of Christ Church Incorporated, Nigeria mission have completed a 70-day intensive evangelism mission across Liberia with a call for peaceful and violence free elections in the country.
Pastors I.I. Umanah, head pastor of the Utu Ikpe Congregation in Akwa Ibom State and Rev. Stephen Ukiwe Oleka of the Family Miracle Center in Obon Town, Akwa Abom State, Nigeria said peace in Liberia means peace in the West African sub-region.
Speaking in separate interview in Monrovia recently, the two Nigerian prelates said during their stay in the country, they held talks with key government officials, including legislators and other local authorities in Montserrado, Sinoe, Bong and Margibi counties.
During their meeting with officials of government, they highlighted the work of the Community of Christ Church in the country and the need for Liberians to pray for peaceful and violence free elections.
The pastors said their trip to Liberia was part of the ‘World Service Corps’ of the Community of Christ Church worldwide, which is aimed at proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in all parts of the world and promote communities of joy, hope, love and peace.
The prelates said while in Liberia, they were also involved in spiritual cleansing and other community works.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Albino Entertains Crowd At Independence Celebration

The 164th Independence Day celebration in Voinjama, Lofa County was marked by several activities, including the dedication of projects in various parts of the county, sports among others.
The actual celebration was held in the Voinjama Administrative building and was only intended to accommodate at least one-thousand persons who were served official invitation by the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Even though, it was estimated that the building would have accommodated at least one thousand persons, but reports gathered indicate that the hall could not accommodate even six hundred persons.
The rest of the people who had congregated in that small Liberian city (Voinjama) to witness the ceremony were left with no options but to remain standing outside the building to take glances at the various traditional and other dancers.
The crowd could not hold their excitements when a little albino girl was called on stage to perform.
The young albino entertained and thrilled the thousands of on looker with enthusiasm, even better than some adult dancers at the ceremony.
With the level enthusiasm seen in the young albino girl, many believed she would become one of Liberia’s best cultural dancers when provided the needed support and care.Writes, Sam Zota, Jr.

Friday, August 12, 2011

“EIA Is Not One Man’s Thing”

…EPA Boss Asserts
The Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA) says the issue of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a problem that requires the involvement and participation of all stakeholders in the country.
Madam Anyaa Vohiri said the EIA process needs the collective expertise of every well-meaning Liberian and other stakeholders in order to make the country safer.
Speaking recently at the close of an environmental evaluator 2011 training and licensure for over 40 EIA investigators, auditors and receivers held in Monrovia, Madam Vohiri said a safe environment is the bedrock for sustainable development in any country.
The EPA Executive Director stressed the need for the EPA to form part of all concessional negotiations, policy plans or activities that are likely to lead to the degradation of the country’s environment.
The EPA is the successor of the National Environmental Commission of Liberia (NECOLIB) first established in 1999. According to the Environment Management and Protection Law of Liberia, the EPA is to form part of these agreements in order to identify the anticipated impacts of a proposed policy, project or activity, both adverse and beneficial impacts, and predict the extent and scale of the impact.
EIA is a tool for assisting environmental management and for contributing to sustainable development.
The purpose of EIA is to identify potential environmental impacts from proposals, such as projects and programs, and to propose means to avoid or reduce the significant impacts.
EIA also institutes the rules, regulations and procedures for an internationally recognized and effective environmental management tool which helps to attain and maintain a rational balance between socio-economic growth and environmental protection. Writes, Sam Zota, Jr. (August 2, 2011)

Kokoya Women, Youth Complain

…Of Exclusion In Local Governance
Women and youth of Kokoyah Statutory District in Liberia’s central region of Bong County have complained of neglect and exclusion in the decision-making and governance processes of the county.
The Kokoyah District women and youth said local authorities in the county have failed to regard them over the years in all of the decision making processes of the county.
“The local government here is not concerned about the welfare of women in this area (Kokoyah), because they (local authorities) don’t even involve us in anything in this county…be it decision making or other processes,” said Rebecca Dennis, President of the Kokoyah Women Association (KOWA) in an interview over the weekend in Bong County.
Madam Dennis said after several calls by her group and other women groupings in the county, the local authorities were constrained to hold a meeting with them at which they (local authorities) promised to include them in decision making processes of the county.
The KOWA boss said since the meeting was held in 2009, nothing has been done by authorities in the county to remedy the problem.
She said as a result of the continuous exclusion of women in decision-making and governance processes of the county, majority of them are not aware of how funds allocated the county are being used.
Also, the President of Kokoyah Statutory District Youth corroborated the assertions by the women leader in the district.
Mr. Lloyd Ngwayah said the young people in the district and Bong County in general have, over the years, been involved in the decision making process of the county.
Ngwayah, who is also Chairman of the newly established Bong District Youth Caucus (BDYC), indicated that the young people in the county have never been part of discussions surrounding concessions and other agreements in the county.
“We don’t have idea about the various concession agreements in the county; it was only through the help of the international and other local non-governmental organizations that we were able to even see and understand some of the agreements…,” Mr. Ngwayah noted.
He accused the county authorities of being insensitive to the plights of young people in the county.
The youth leader said several attempts made over the years by young people to be heard in the county have been considered and seen by the local Bong County leadership as creating confusion in the county.
He said as a consequence of the local authorities’ actions, young people in the county also have no knowledge on how funds that are allotted to the county through the national budget and other contributions are being utilized.
The Bong County youth are currently being trained in several areas, including budget tracking and monitoring, organizational management skills, among others, by the Community Development and Research Agency (CODRA).
CODRA is a local NGO helping to, among other things, empower communities in setting their own development agenda and pursue other positive course of action aimed at finding solution to their development problem.
However, efforts to contact Bong County Superintendant, Lucia Herbert, did not materialize as her mobile phone was said to be perpetually switched off since Monday, August 8, 2011.
Meanwhile, Bong County is currently paying host to concession companies including ArcelorMittal, China Union and Bhp Billiton.
The county is also a recipient of US$2,383,000.00 annually as Social Development Funds (SDF) from these concession companies for the development of the county.
The county gets US500, 000 from Arcelor Mittal; US$1,750,000 from China Union and US$133,000 from Bhp Billiton annually.
In addition to the SDF, the Government of Liberia also made an annual appropriation of US$200,000.00 in the National Budget for each county as a way of decentralizing the economic spending of the country.
On November 23, 2009, the Cabinet endorsed the National Decentralization and Local Governance policy.
By its endorsements, the Cabinet thereby authorized the ministry and agency heads to have proceeded with the implementation policy.
The National Decentralization Policy was established as one of the Unity Party’s led-government’s key deliverables of devolution of the government, thereby empowering and/or disbursing power to the periphery which comprises the local government structures in the 15 political subdivisions of the county.
Bong County was established in 1964 by the National Legislature and is divided into 12 administrative districts.
Bong County, according to the 2008 National Housing and Population Census, is the third most populated county in the country with a population of 333,481.
The county is strategically situated within the central region of Liberia and borders Lofa and Gbarpolu in the north-west, Margibi and Grand Bassa in the South, and Nimba in the East. Writes, Sam Zota, Jr. (August 11, 2011)

Justice Demanded In Klubo’s Death

--As Fear Grip Zorzor District Residents
The people of Zeyeama clan, Zorzor district Lofa County, are demanding justice and that the killer of Klubo Tarnue should be speedily tried.
Mama Tarnue, Chairlady of Zeyeama Clan said she and her female counterparts in the clan and Zorzor district will remain unwavering till perpetrators are brought to justice.
She accused the government through the county authorities of reneging on ensuring that Klubo’s killers are speedily brought to justice in order to adequately address the increased rate of ritualistic killings in the county, particularly Zorzor district over the past four years.
“We are afraid to go on our farms or to even travel alone because it is possible that similar thing (killing) could happen to anyone of us or our children if we are not careful,” said Mama Tarnue.
Madam Tarnue noted that the brutal murder of Klubo and subsequent extraction of her body parts was a complete disgrace to womanhood.
Residents of Zorzor District are said to be living in fear following the brutal killing of their kinsmen in the district.
According to some residents, mainly women and youth, since the discovery of the lifeless body of Klubo Tarnue along the Konia-Zorzor road near Kabbeh village, they are afraid of travelling alone.
Klubo Tarnue was found dead few yards away from Kabbeh village where the deceased lived prior to her death with some body parts missing, including her private part and ear on July 29, 2011, barely two days following the 164th Independence Day celebration.
Kebbeh village is about ten minutes away from Konia where Korpo Kamara was also killed in 2010 in Zeyeama clan, Zorzor District, Lofa County.
Korpo’s death sparked violent protest last year which led to the death of four persons and properties destroyed.
Following the discovery of Klubo’s body on July 29, about 14 persons, including the Sectional Chief of Zeyeama Clan, David Zubah were arrested; but ten persons were later released while the remaining four persons, including the deceased boyfriend, Tarnue F. Lewis and others are still in police custody undergoing investigations.
“We don’t want them (government) to play with this killing business like the ones that have been happening in the past; it is getting too much now in this district…and we will not rest until justice is done,” the Sectional Chief of Zeyeama Clan David Zubah stressed.
The young looking Chief said they are beginning to be frightened by the level of inconsistencies that are emerging from the accused testimonies to the police.
According to Chief Zubah, the accused had initially told the police that he killed Klubo along with John Harris, his brother Karwolo Harris, two prominent sons of the area, and another accused only identified as Mulbah.
However, the chief said the accused latest testimony that he killed the victim alone is worrisome.
Chief Zubah said suspect Lewis told the police in his second testimony that he killed Klubo in their three-room mud hut and later placed her on his shoulder and dumped her lifeless body near the village along the road.
Lofa County Superintendant Galakpai Kortimai could not comment on the matter, even though he had initially promised through a telephone conversation to have done so before leaving for Monrovia on August 4, 2011.
For his part, the County Attorney of Lofa, Luther J. Sumo, called on the citizens to remain calm as government was doing everything to ensure the perpetrators are prosecuted in accordance with the laws.
“The people of that area are also part of the government; so, we count on them to assist us in providing to the police the necessary information that will help to make the investigation faster and easier,” Atty. Sumo told The News in a telephone interview.
The Lofa County Attorney, who was also out of the county attending a workshop in Monrovia, assured that the government will not relent in prosecuting anyone who will be found in connection with the crime.
There have been about four cases of ritualistic killings in the area since 2007.
A group of Lofa youth under the banner, ‘Lofa County Youth Seeking Justice’ recently threatened to stage demonstration in demand of justice for the high wave of ritualistic killings in the county.
The demonstration which was initially scheduled for July 26th was later canceled by the group following several consultations with key stakeholders of the county.
The group claimed that since the deaths of Vawuee Kezelee of Kpazagezia in 2007, Patrick Mulbah in 2008 and Korpo Kamara in 2010, the government has refused to implement recommendations from the investigating committee.
The death of Klubo Tarnue brings to four the number of persons who have been killed in the county, particularly Zorzor District in less than five years.
According to the 2008 National Housing and Population Census, Zorzor is one of the six districts in Lofa with a population of 40,352. Writes, Sam Zota, Jr. (August 10, 2011)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sime Darby Faces Lawsuit

Green Advocates International has finally resolved to institute
lawsuit against Sime Darby Plantation and the Government of Liberia for illegally taking over several farmlands to cultivate oil palm in Grand Cape Mount County.
Green Advocates International reached the decision on Saturday
following series of requests from Grand Cape Mount and Bomi counties citizens living near the Malaysian Company concession area.
The citizens, in separate pleas at a recent meeting in Grand Cape
Mount County, asked the advocacy group to help stop further expansion of Sime Darby’s plantation.
They claimed that the Malaysian Company is planning to further
expand it plantation without regard to inhabitants of various
communities in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties.
The citizens indicated that Sime Darby has, without any prior notice and consent, taken over their farmlands to grow oil palm.
“The clearing of our forest by Sime Darby has exposed us to raging sunlight and rainstorm,” the Bomi and Grand Cape Mount citizens said.
They alleged that they can no longer farm as a result of the
company and the Government of Liberia forceful seizure of their
The citizens said their land was forcefully taken away from them by the Government of Liberia and given to the company to grow oil palm without their knowledge and consent.
“We were never part of the concession agreement entered into between the government and Sime Darby and not aware of what is in the agreement.
“We are face with severe hardships because we do not have bush to farm anymore,” they noted.
An elder of the counties Siaffa B. Gray disclosed that the company
has desecrated their ancestral graves and bulldozed cash crops like
palm and cassava farms privately owed by the citizens.
He said the company also destroyed their secret society shrub.
He disclosed that about 2.5 million palm trees which serve as a
source of income for the locals were destroyed by Sime Darby without any compensation.
“You have to ensure that Sime Darby is taken to court and is made to pay for all that it has destroyed here,” elder Gray said on behalf of
the citizens.
Responding to the citizens’ request, Green Advocates International
Lead Campaigner Alfred Lahai Brownell assured that his organization would drag Sime Darby and the Government of Liberia to the Supreme Court to revoke the concession agreement on the ground that it is unconstitutional.
He said “we will go to court and we will fight this case and if we don’t succeed at the Supreme Court of Liberia, we will take this
matter to the international community.”
Cllr. Brownell noted that he would rely on his international
partners to fight the case out of Liberia.
The Green Advocates Lead Campaigner couldn’t control his tears when he said “the action of government to give your land to Sime Darby without your prior consent is unfair and wicked.”
He said Green Advocates would challenge government’s action at the Supreme Court, noting “government will have to prove that it own this land that it has given to Sime Darby”
Sime Darby is a Malaysian Company that has a US$800,000 Concession in Liberia.