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Weah regime faces harassment charge

-Lawyers complain

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Allegations of harassment and the escalation of a clampdown on critics of the George Weah administration is said to be on the increase here with several civil society groups and opposition parties voicing their concerns.

One of the latest group to voice concern over the allegations of harassment and clampdown on critics of former soccer legend Weah is the Liberian National Bar Association or LNBA.

The LNBA in a statement issued over the weekend frowns on what it said is an attempts by some state actors to engage in the harassment of lawyers simply on the account of representing their clients.

The Bar said it is also concerned about the escalating clampdown on critics of the government, as evidenced by unfounded allegations and threatening utterances coming from highly placed individuals, which may have the net effect of silencing dissent.

The statement follows report attributed to the Solicitor General of Liberia, Cllr. Cyrenus Cephus threatening to arrest Cllr. Finley Karngar, a member of the LNBA, on the premise that he could not produce a client, in person of Henry Costa who has fled the country based on personal security concerns.

The LNBA says assuming that Cllr. Karngar signed for Mr. Henry Costa to have him report for an investigation, the mere fact that the Liberian Government was in the know that Mr. Costa had fled the country and the Government said it was initiating discussions with the Government of Sierra Leone to bring Costa back to Liberia, the matter became moot.

The LNBA says that implies that Cllr. Karngar no longer had any obligation of ensuring the appearance of Costa before any forum, neither was he responsible to answer any question regarding the whereabouts of Henry Costa.

The LNBA maintains the position that being the Solicitor General of Liberia does not give Cllr. Cephus, who is also a member of the LNBA, any authority to arrest a member of the LNBA who has not committed any offense under Liberian law. The Bar Association further says that for Cllr. Cephus to perceive, imagine, countenance or entertain the notion that he has such authority is sad, to say the least.

The LNBA cautions the Solicitor General to exercise his authority within the scope of the law and with regard to the rights of all Liberian citizens, including lawyers, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Liberia and the international bill of human rights.

The LNBA says it will not tolerate any violation of the rights of lawyers in the execution of the professional obligations to their clients by the Solicitor General or any official of Government and reminds the SG to always take cognizance of section 12.70 of the Penal Law which prohibits the abuse of public office.

The LNBA warns that it will not hesitate to institute actions and impose appropriate sanctions on Cllr. Cephus if he were to carry out the threatened arbitrary arrest of Cllr. Finley, in order to send out a clear message that the Bar will not condone the subjection of lawyers to harassment by state actors and shall always defend lawyers in the protection of their duties.

Additionally, it says it is taken aback that the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) would assign unto itself a duty outside of its statutory mandate beyond the Alien and Nationality Law by attempting to investigate a Liberian citizen for alleged possession of false travel document. The Bar notes that the principal function of the LIS is to enforce the Alien and Nationality Law, Title 4 – Liberian Code of Laws Revised and not to conduct investigation of Liberian citizens suspected or accused of committing crime. Such a duty, according to the Bar, is strictly assigned to the Liberian National Police.

The bar further noted that it is also concerned about the escalating clampdown on critics of the government, as evidenced by unfounded allegations and threatening utterances coming from highly placed individuals, which may have the net effect of silencing dissent, thereby reversing the gains made in the building of democracy in Liberia and eventually creating an environment for the resurgence of dictatorship in Liberia and civil conflict.

The LNBA calls on the Government and all its officials to take serious note of the fact that the legal profession is the only profession that is protected by the Constitution of Liberia. Article 21(i) of the Constitution of Liberia provides, amongst other things that “…no lawyer shall be… punished for providing legal services, regardless of the charges against or the guilt of his client…” Solicitor General Cephas and other overzealous officials of governments must resist the temptation to illegally amplify the scope of authority of their offices by taking actions against lawyers that bear the potential of creating a chilling effect on the practice of law and thereby make it difficult for lawyers to protect human rights in Liberia.

LNBA assures the Government of Liberia of its willingness to cooperate and collaborate with it in protecting the rights of the people and seeking their common good, but added that it shall not for one minute close its eyes on the violation of the rights of its members in the performance of the professional duties to their clients and any attempt by anyone holding public office in Liberia to depart from subscribing to governance by rule of law to governance by rule of man.