Liberia’s House of Representatives Passes to Decriminalize Speech


Monrovia – The House of Representatives has voted in favor of the passage into law a bill seeking to repeal some sections of the Penal Law of Liberia to decriminalize free speech.

Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]

The Bill, earlier submitted by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was resubmitted by President George Manneh Weah to the Legislature on May 31, 2018.

“The Bill titled is “An Act to amend the Liberian Codes Revised, Penal Law of 1978 of the Republic of Liberia, Chapter 11, by repealing sections 11.11; 11.12 and 11.14 to be known as the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom.”

It seeks to amend Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President; 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence.

The Lower House’s decision followed recommendations contained in a report by the House joint Committee on Information, Cultural Affairs, Tourism and Broadcasting and Judiciary.

However, plenary refused the Committee’s recommendation, calling for the removal of the title: “Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom.”

According to the Committee during a public hearing on the bill, several expert witnesses agreed that the bill satisfies all internationally accepted values and practiced norms of participatory democracy.

But on naming the law in honor of an individual – a fallen Liberian journalist who also propagated the values of free speech – the Chairman of the Committee on Information, Cultural Affairs, Tourism and Broadcasting, Rep. Nagbe Sloh (Sinoe County) contended that the Committee found no such precedence and the expert views sought did not agree that it is the right thing to do.

Sloh, backed by Rep. Vincent Willie (Grand Bassa County), added that naming the law in honor of the late Press Union of Liberia (PUL) President will be a disservice to scores of individuals who fought for press freedom and freedom of expression in Liberia.

The Joint Committee said: “… We unanimously recommend that Plenary passes it and subsequently forward same to the Honorable Liberian Senate for its timely occurrence and submission to the President for signature into law, provided that the name of Mr. Kamara Abdullah Kamara is removed. The Press Union of Liberia can identify a project to name in honor of Mr. Kamara, befitting his gallant contributions to press freedom and free speech in Liberia.”

But following a heated debate, 40 of the lawmakers in plenary voted in favor of Rep. Acarous M. Gray’s motion and called for the bill to be passed in its entirety without any altercation, thus rejecting the committee’s recommendation.

Their action prompted Representatives Sloh and Beyan Howard to vote against the bill; while Representatives Vincent Willie of Grand Bassa and Larry Younquoi of Nimba Counties abstained.

President George M. Weah, in his communication to the Legislature in May, 2018 noted that the Act is named in honor of the late Liberian Journalist and former President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) in recognition of the important role he (Kamara) played in convincing national government to repeal provisions on the Penal Law of Liberia, which impede freedom of speech and independence of the press in Liberia.