At the core of most of the human rights, political and socio-economic activisms is the concept “Democracy” continued to yearn for. Politicians incorporate the institutionalization of democratic values into their platforms. Human rights activists see the concept as a guarantor of fundamentals rights also sanctioned by the Constitutions.On the authority of careful observation following most of the activisms, it seems to be that the concept democracy continued to be misunderstood and misused by the very proponents.
The guarantee of basic human rights often advocated is one of the pillars of democracy exercised by both the state and citizens. One of the fundamental human rights that arguably seemed to be misunderstood or wrongly interpreted by most of the activists is “Freedom of Speech” Granted, freedom of speech constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society sanctioned by international legal frameworks such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Conventions, Constitutions and laws of the democratic states guarantee the right to freedom of speech and expression. However, researches revealed that these same legal frameworks provide restrictions and respect for these rights prescribed by law, as there is no freedom which is absolute and unlimited. In other words, the same concept of democracy that provides freedom of speech or expression for citizens, also calls for limitations needed for the maintenance of the democratic society. For example, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) that re-enforced the international legal frameworks provides that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessaryin the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety;for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others; etc. Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that Liberia subscribed to outlined two key categories of restrictions that limit freedom of expression:for respect of the rights or reputations of others; for the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals. These restrictions shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary. In other words, it means that the government as a guarantor of democracy has the right to protect the reputation of any of its citizen injured by another citizen as a result of freedom of expression. In the same vein, democracy provides the accountability and responsibility of any freedom of speech that endangers or threatens national, internal security or public order. Let’s look at the case of Edward Snowdenan American computer professional who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) to the mainstream media, starting in June 2013 wanted by the U.S. government for what could be interpreted as compromising their national security interest.
The question to be impressed upon your mind is that, why will the U.S. that significantly practice liberal democracy that also emphasizes freedom of speech being trying to extradite Edward Snowden for prosecution who arguably exercised his right to freedom of speech or information? Instead, Snowden should be off the hook. But because the same democracy recognizes freedom of speech that goes with responsibility and accountability articulated by Walter Baets (2012), the U.S. government action in this case is justifiable.
In the case of Liberia, this is where most of the human rights lawyers or activists closing their eyes on and at the same time projecting misconceptions of the concept of democracy into the minds of bulk of the young people quick to acceptance because of their limitations. Walter Beats outlined two crucial conditions regarding freedom of speech. What you say should be respectful to all other people,it should be based on the truth, and it should be authentic. Forhim, this is where the accountability fits in.
Without being prejudice to the fact in issues, let’s look at the case of the Vandalark Patricks that exercised his right to freedom of speech protected by democracy. Under the banner of the Joint Action Committee (JAC), Vandalark accused the Liberian government of hiring assassins to murder the former managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company, Harry Greaves, and eliminate other political opponents of the government and calling for a mass citizen action on March 11.
To maintain the author’s objectivity and neutrality, carefully juxtapose Vandalark’s action and the legal frameworks, including the Edward Snowden case and Walter Beast two crucial conditions pertaining to freedom of speech or expression so as to draw your own conclusion on the action of the government. In other words, does Vandalark expression and calling for mass citizen action endanger internal security that also according to democracy must be protected by the state or government? Without being sentimental to the fact in issues, ponder to arrive at your conclusion.
With direct reference to Walter Beast second condition “it (freedom of expression) should be based on the truth, and it should be authentic”, any right thinking person will agreed that the action of the government as required by law is to allow Mr. Vandalark to provide the veracity of his claims so that the people of Liberia will accept the credibility of his activisms.
For any right thinking person, the action by Vandalark supporters demanding unconditional release that to some extent connotes evading justice risks the credibility surrounding his assertion as articulated by Walter Beast in famous essay “Freedom of speech goes alone with responsibility and accountability” Arguably, it is impractical to esteem activism and at the same time refusing or resisting the platform for accountability.