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Court denies journalists’ motion to dismiss trial

The Magisterial Court of Cestos, Rivercess County on Wednesday, 24 May, denied a motion to dismiss in a trial of criminal coercion involving journalists of ECHO Radio.

Journalists Eric Oldpa Duoe, Saturday Jududoe and Stanley Wrehdhu are all employees of ECHO Radio of Yarpah Town, Rivercess County. According to the Writ of Arrest, the three journalists were ordered arrested for the crime of criminal coercion, having allegedly broadcast intentionally, criminally, and maliciously that the former Representative of the 51st Legislature of Rivercess County Victor Wilson was involved in the sale of an earth moving equipment that belonged to the People of Rivercess.

The report is claimed to have caused harm to Mr. Wilson and his character. The journalists were served a writ of arrest early Thursday, 17 May by sheriffs from the Cestos Magisterial Court for criminal coercion for alleged defamation against Mr. Wilson.

Lawyers representing the accused Cllr. Paul Jarvan and William Moore Johnson argue in a motion for dismissal that the court’s writ of arrest contained wrong form of action since there was no elements of force or compulsion to constitute criminal coercion in the allegation brought against the journalists.

The defense counsels assert that, what was presented in the charge against the reporters amounts to an action in defamation and not criminal coercion.But Associate Magistrate Abraham Nyonway denied the motion, stating that there were key elements of criminal coercion which were clear and could be answered affirmatively.

He cited section 14.4 of the criminal law which states: A complaint made orally to a magistrate or justice of the peace shall be reduced to writing on the face of the writ by the clerk of the court, or, if there is no clerk, by the magistrate or justice.

The written complaint shall specify the nature of the offense charged and shall contain a concise statement of the acts of the defendant alleged to constitute such offense, and of the time and place of commission of the offense and of the person, if any, against whom, and the thing, if any, in respect to which, the offense was committed. The complaint shall be sworn to by the complainant.

The defense counsel noted their exceptions to the ruling of the magistrate and announced in open court that they will take advantage of the appeal statute as required by law.

According to 14.27 of the Liberia Penal Law regarding criminal coercion, a person is guilty of criminal coercion if he unlawfully compels another to engage in or refrain from conduct, he threatens to commit any criminal offense, accuse anyone of a criminal offense, expose any secret or publicize an asserted fact tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to impair his credit or business repute.

Criminal coercion is a misdemeanor of the first degree. A person found guilty may pay a fine of 300 or may be committed to prison for a period of one year.

Meanwhile the trial is set to continue on Monday, 4 June, a schedule sought by the prosecution.

The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) reiterates that it is “meticulously monitoring the weird criminal coercion court action” against the journalists.

The PUL says it sees the court’s action against members of the Journalism Community in Liberia as the commencement of a ploy to intimidate journalists in the south- central region of Liberia through a difficult legal form of action.

“It is unacceptable that the rights of journalists and media workers are continuously being violated through different court actions,” the Union stresses.

It recalls that on Monday, 9 April, the office of FrontPage Africa (FPA) was raided on the orders of authorities at the Civil Law Court in Monrovia when sheriffs arrested all the papers’ employees including cleaners and an expediter.

Moreover, the Press Union of Liberia says it is most respectfully drawing the attention of the Supreme Court of Liberia and the Liberia National Bar Association to the situation in Rivercess.

It reminds that judicial authorities here that Liberia signed the Table Mountain Declaration on 21 July 2012, vowing to repeal criminal defamation or ‘insult’ laws.

But it says almost six years on, journalists are still being harassed, frightened and persecuted by political leaders of the country, using criminal defamation as means of silencing critical voices.–Press release

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