Liberia: “Pres. Weah’s Gov’t Struggling to Embrace Freedom of Expression” – Rights Group Cites Maiden Report

Foundation for Human Rights Defense International (FOHRD) Country Director Peter N. Wonokay said the Weah-led Administration is struggling to embrace freedom of expression as enshrined in the Liberian Constitution

Monrovia – The Foundation for Human Rights Defense International (FOHRD) Liberia office has released its maiden national human rights report in which it cites that the Administration of President George Manneh Weah is struggling to embrace freedom of expression as enshrined in the Liberian Constitution.

Releasing his organization’s first national human rights report last Thursday, to the public, FOHRD Country Director, Mr. Peter N. Wonokay stated that one of the key functions of democracy and human rights is freedom of expression and that the Liberian Constitution provides in Article 15 (b) and (c) that the government is supposed to tolerate opposing views, including critical voices of the media and political oppositions.

“To a certain extent, the Government of President George Weah has had a hard time respecting Freedom of Expressions. For instance, in July of 2018, the Liberian Government, after several attempts to silence a radio station (Voice FM), which was quite critical of it, eventually filed a motion at the Civil Law Court seeking an order from the judge to shut down the station.

“Unfortunately for the Weah Administration, the presiding judge, Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh, did not find enough reason to support the administration’s argument, and even though the judge eventually denied the motion, the government in several attempts tried to pressure the Court to support its position,” FOHRD said in its report.

The human rights group further pointed out that in addition to that constitutional violation, the Liberian Government, on May 21st, 2021, threatened to revoke the operating permits of other media institutions, including Sky FM and D -15 radio stations, for broadcasting Henry Pedro Costa’s interviews with Dr. Allen White, “an interview in which Dr. White spoke in unflattering terms about the state of democracy in Liberia.”

Other key areas of concern in the FOHRD report are, Allegations of Corruption, Pretrial Detention and Lack of Fair Trial as well as Inadequate Health Service Delivery, Excessive Use of Force, Police Brutality, Prison Conditions and the Rights of Inmates.

Further addressing the press, Mr. Wonokay said they had begun a journey intended for the advancement of Liberia’s democracy in the protection of the human rights of everyone found within the borders of the country.

“Today, FOHRD is launching the first of many national human rights reports to come, which will cover key thematic areas of national governance.”

He informed his audience that to accomplish their objective successfully, FOHRD trained and assigned human rights monitors in 10 of the 15 counties: Bomi, Bong, Grand Gedeh, Grand Cape Mount, Grand Bassa, Gbarpolu, Margibi, Montserrado, Sinoe and Nimba.

“At the beginning of the exercise, FOHRD sent letters of introduction to the relevant county authorities, including city mayors, superintendents, and law enforcement, civil society leaders, notifying them of the organization’s presence and purpose in the county. While prison officials were initially reluctant to grant access to our human rights monitors at certain prison locations, they eventually cooperated after the Ministry of Justice granted FOHRD permission to visit and monitor prison conditions in all the prisons around the country.”

He used the occasion to thank the Ministry of Justice and informed the government that FOHRD will report nothing other than the facts.

Under “Allegation of Corruption” in its report, FOHRD frowned on the Weah-led administration for allowing the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission’s (LACC) former Vice Chairperson, Cllr. Kanio Bai Gbala, to ascend as Acting Chairperson having been accused of corruption by a staff of the same institution and the Liberian Government didn’t commission an investigation.

“In February 2021, Mohammed Fahnbulleh, then a staffer at the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), raised concerns about several cases of corruption and conflict of interest involving the then Vice Chairman of the LACC, Cllr. Kanio Bai Gbala. Mr. Fahnbulleh’s allegation included cases of double salary being received by Cllr. Gbala, including collection of daily sustenance allowance (DSA) for several trips out of town that he did   not make. Mr. Fahnbulleh further alleged that Cllr. Gbala signed for and received the amount of USD500.00 (Five Hundred United States Dollars) from the LACC intended for journalists at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) but also kept the amount for personal use.

“Despite the fact that the allegations against Cllr. Gbala were of serious public interest due to his role as the Vice Chairman of Liberia’s Anti-Corruption Commission, the Liberian Government turned a blind eye and instead promoted Cllr. Gbala to the position of Chairman of the LACC. Several months after being promoted to the chairmanship of the LACC, an LACC internal investigation surprisingly submitted a report clearing Cllr. Gbala of any wrongdoing, the nature of the LACC investigation that was conducted without Cllr. Gbala recusing himself did not reflect the level of transparency and integrity promised by the Liberian Government, and up to this moment, many Liberians are very concerned about the role of the LACC in the Liberian democratic process with Cllr. Gbala at the helm, yet the government has done nothing to      address this concern. These allegations and other on-going issues including the President and his administration officials’ persistent refusal to declare their assets reflect the gloomy state of   Liberia’s democracy.”

In its report, FOHRD recommended among others, that the government establishes a transparent independent commission to investigate unlawful detentions, police brutality, and corruption in public offices as well as take immediate proactive steps to provide better healthcare for its people in keeping with the Constitution and other international instruments.