President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, you became the second African leader to sign onto the Declaration of Table Mountain (DTM), when you did so in Monrovia on July 21, 2012. The Declaration calls for the abolition of “Insult Laws, Criminal Defamation and all other laws that restrict press freedom.”
By affixing your signature on the document, you committed Liberia to repealing all such unfriendly and repressive laws on the books that limit the performance of the press and inhibit free expression.
That signing ceremony, came only two years after the Country made history as the first in West Africa to enact a freedom of information law.
Since the July 21, 2012 signing of the DTM, madam President you have made repeated commitments to submitting a bill to the Legislature to decriminalize defamation, but we are yet to hear that a bill has been submitted to the effect. And it looks like we are now racing against time to register this important milestone in your legacy.
Madam President, you were on point just last year when you called on the media to stop criticizing and join efforts to make good your commitment on this very significant instrument.
While admitting that it has taken too long a time, you implored media representatives and civil society organizations to join you complete the process as quickly as possible.
Admittedly, the media had been criticizing because the media has always been anxious to see you fulfill this commitment on behalf of our country. But the media has been involved with various stakeholders’ engagements to get a draft ready for submission to the legislature.
We are aware that the Media Law Reform Working Group has since February 2017 completed a draft and submitted to your office for review and onward submission to the Legislature, for the repeal of “Criminal Libel against the President”, “Sedition” and “Criminal Malevolence” as found in Sections 11.11, 11.2 and 11.14 of the Penal Law of 1978.
Madam President, we are concerned that your commitment to elevate our claims to free expression by repealing these laws, is now hanging in the balance with your days in office fast fading.
By abolishing criminal defamation, our country would have repositioned itself as a leader for freedom and democratic development not only in West Africa, but the whole of Africa. This is too good a milestone to ignore because, our country would have made a strong statement for our support for other regional and international instruments to which Liberia is a signatory, aside from the Declaration of Table Mountain.
Certainly, the time is running out on this important reform agenda that should serve as one of the guarantors of the sustenance of peace and democracy in our dear country.
Please do something!