John Stuart Mill wrote that humankind or society loses if and when deprived of the opportunity to benefit from the “Clear perception & livelier impression of Truth produced by its collision with Falsehood”. This condition, in my view, has been and is the case in our country, particularly, as the result of actions by Ruling Groups and supporters of our Liberian, political community.
An Investigative Reporter/Managing Editor, Mr. Rodney Sieh, is in jail with his paper, the FrontPageAfrica, closed because the current, Liberian Ruling Group and supporters, privileged elites and advantaged others know, but refused to admit the Truth as well as refused to permit it to be told, freely and openly.
Facts of History
Throughout the 166-year history of Liberia as a politically-independent nation, Ruling Groups knew, but refused to admit, that Liberia is not a truly-functioning democracy in real, practical terms, but a nation of The Tyranny of the Few – the emerged/emerging political class of indigenous (native) and African-American/descendants, Ruling Group. Not only that these Ruling Groups knew and refused to admit the Truth, but also refused to permit the truth to be told, freely and openly.
Moreover, throughout the nation’s history, Ruling Groups and supporters parade the nation and the world, beating their chests, proudly, that Liberia is the only African country that has not been colonized, although they knew then and know now that, in fact, Liberia is a colony of “The Tyranny of the Few”, African Ruling Groups, but refused to admit the truth as well as permit the truth to be told, freely and openly.
Freedom of Speech and of the Press
According to Oxford Bibliographies “Freedom of the press” refers to freedom to criticize government without official interference or punishment before or after publication. Press freedom obtains where and when opponents can publish effective criticisms of government, government leaders, laws or policies without punishment in the form of fines, imprisonment or even death. Ruling groups of the First, Second and Third World countries, past and present, sought and seek to restrict press freedom in two ways. The first is either censorship or mandatory licensing by the government, a requirement prior to publication. The second is punishment – fine or imprisonment – for printed material that is considered to be seditious or libelous. Censorship of the press began after the invention of the printing press. The Bibliographies also asserts that in England, where the struggle for press freedom began, there were royal edits that required licensing in 1534 and later, strong, censorship measures were applied by the kings.
With 21st century age of electronic media – the internet and other “social media” – the phrase “freedom of the press” expresses coverage of the mediated communication in general. Indeed, “freedom of speech” and “of the press” have become the major tenets and practice of modern democracy, particularly, arising from the US and French revolutions which were driven by this thought, among others. In the United States, the debates on press freedom began 23 years after that country declared itself a republic with commitment to classical democracy based on liberty, justice, freedom of speech and of the press. However, the Sedition Act of 1798, which sought to over-ride the US Bill of Rights, was short-lived.
The Republic of Liberia
Liberia’s Constitution [Article 15(a)] provides that “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this constitution”, while Article 15(b) prescribes that “It (this right) includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge . . . “
Notwithstanding all of the above, Liberia had its share of denials and restrictions in the form of legislative enactments designed to over-ride constitutional provisions throughout the 166-year history as a “democratic” nation. Some recent past, historical examples:
In 1933, President Edwin Barclay requested and the Legislature enacted a Sedition Law which penalized criticism of the President and government’s policy on the treatment of indigenous Liberians, with penalty of three to seven year-imprisonment and confiscation of property (Burrowes, 2004).
President William V. S. Tubman, who succeeded President Barclay, amended the Sedition Laws, incorporated and treasonized (treason, a wartime felony) acts which were normal, peacetime offences under provisions of the-then, existing criminal code. President Tubman, further, obtained the passage of an Emergency Powers Act which authorized the President to arrest and detain, up to one year without the right of bail, any person suspected of acts described as subversive.
Dr. William R. Tolbert, who succeeded President Tubman:
1. Obtained amendment (April 18, 1978) of the feared Treason, Sedition and Emergency Powers Acts of Presidents Barclay and Tubman, expanded coverage to include, among others, accusations of the incumbent president, any other executive or judicial authority, with penalties such as denial of the right of bail. The very enactment and potential enforcement of such laws create fear and inhibit the free expression of opinions.
2. Ordered Lethal Force Response against civilians engaged in a peaceful, protest march during the infamous Rice Riot of April 14, 1979, in which many civilians were killed by military forces in Monrovia.
During the Military Government (PRC) of Chairman, Samuel K. Doe, there were spirited debates over the controversial PRC Decree 88A and the Article “Monrovia Stinks” (Daily Observer) and others in early 1980.
Corruption has been raised up from “rampant corruption” to the level of massive Corruption, Inc., and “abuse of (executive) power” to abuse of executive + judicial power; Liberia is not improving!! “Rampant Corruption” & “abuse of power” were the signature tunes of the 1980 coup d’etat.