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Liberia: Judge Warns Journalists Against Politicizing Cases Before Courts

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Monrovia – Criminal Court C Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh has warned Journalists against “politicizing” cases before the court.

Judge Gbeneweleh issued the warning on Thursday, July 11, in his judgment before setting New Dawn Publisher Othello B. Garblah free of contempt.

“No one should politicize the court and play politics with the court because the court is a last place of hope to settle a dispute between parties on Earth,” Judge Gbeneweleh said.

Judge Gbeneweleh summoned the Liberian journalist on Tuesday, July 10, based on his newspaper’s Tuesday, July 9, 2019 front page story captioned: “Plot To Exonerate Defendants?”

The summon was issued on the local daily’s publisher on Tuesday, July 9, hours after the story hit the newsstand.

In the story, the paper wrote: “Information reaching this paper indicates that there is ongoing serious lobby to put certain witnesses on the stance in the Sable Mining bribery scandal case that would vindicate defendant Varney Sherman and others.”

The story continues: “The news follows the visit of Associate Justice Joseph N. Nagbe at the Criminal Court on Friday where three of his former colleagues-defendant Senators Varney Sherman, Morris Saytuma and former House Speaker Alex Tyler who have begun testifying in the trial.”

But the legal counsel of the New Dawn publisher appeared in court on Wednesday and pleaded with Judge Gbeneweleh to postpone the hearing of the case to Thursday, July 11, 2019.

During the hearing on Thursday the defendant’s lawyer, Cllr. Eugene Massaquoi pleaded with the court to tender justice with mercy.

“Counsel for the defendant prays your honor to tender judgement with mercy against the defendant as to our story published on Tuesday under the caption: “Plot To Exonerate Defendants?” which has the expression of casting potential doubt on the ongoing trial in this court,” he said.

In response to the defense counsel submission, Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe who served as friend of the court interpose no objection to the submission but pleaded with the court to plunge the defendant of contempt.

In the judge’s ruling, he described the publication of the newspaper as ‘a journalistic misstep and unethical and unprofessional reportage on the part of the respondent.”

Judge Gbeneweleh added that he cannot be influenced in his decision of the Sable Mining case and will render a fair and transparent judgement in the case like other cases in the past.

“No one can influence this judge and interfere with his independent judgement. This court, as a judge, will uphold and protect the constitution and the law of my dear country. I will administer justice without favor or fear,” he said.

The judge added that any act that embarrasses, belittles, hinders or obstructs the administration of justice is highly contemptuous, like the reportage.

“While is true the court has been embarrassed by the conduct of the respondent, we will tender justice with mercy with the warning that your reportage should be within the record of this court other than that, it will be a violation of the law. This is a warning to all of us,” he said.

“The request of the respondent to which this court interpose no objection is hereby granted, the defendant is plunged with contempt of court.”

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