Liberia: Lawyers Weigh in on Ministry Justice’s Bottlenecks for Protesters

Liberia: Lawyers Say Justice Minister’s Request for Article of Incorporation Before Granting Protest Permit is Unconstitutional

Monrovia – The Minister of Justice’s request for articles of incorporation from the ‘Council of Patriots’, before granting permit for the planned June 7 protest, is out of legal reasoning, some Liberian lawyers have opined.

One of such lawyers is Cllr. Jonathan Massaquoi who expressed shock over the Minister’s letter to the organizers of the protest.

In the Justice Ministry’s communication, the legitimacy of group was questioned followed by a request for their articles of incorporation or the legal documentation to show that they are a duly incorporated or unincorporated institution or association.

The Minister wrote: “The MOJ is under legal obligation to deal with institution/association registered and existing under the laws of Liberia, by and through their legal offices, as we request that you provide us legal documentation, establishing legal status as ‘Council of Patriots’, either as a duly incorporated or unincorporated association in pursuant to the requirements of the Associations Law of Liberia.”

More to that, the Justice Minister noted that under the Associations Law of Liberia, Advisors and Members do not qualify to represent an association or institution as was the case of the letter written to inform the Ministry of planned protest.

But Cllr. Massaquoi cited Article 17 of the 1986 Liberia Constitution that calls for peaceful assembly which, according to him, can be further interpreted as protest or dissatisfaction march.

He said the Article 17 provision is consistent with Article 1 and 15 of the Constitution that support protest by the people.

“The 1986 Constitution gives the right to protest, how can the Ministry come and say that? What he should understand is the group is a movement, a movement is formed and organized for a specific reason,” said Cllr. Massaquoi.

The lawyer added that he expects that as soon as the objective of the movement is met, it will immediately be dissolved.

“How can he say they should register the movement, if he is doing that, it means he is hiding something, by extension it confirms and affirms that you don’t want them to protest because it will show that something is not right to the world about Liberia,” he explained.

Cllr. Massaquoi said instead of the Attorney General creating bottlenecks for the protesters, he should rather provide security to keep the protest peaceful.

He added that the rights of the protestors should not be infringed upon by those disinterested in the protest.

Cllr. Massaquoi said the protest is a sign of true democracy “If you say you have democracy here, you shouldn’t be afraid of protest. The Attorney General of Liberia should not be using a statute to demand people to register organization before the protest, no, you can’t do that.”

He said the request by the ministry is undemocratic, adding that there is nothing in the law that “says write the ministry of Justice or Police before a protest, I have not seen it, what the law says is that you can assemble peacefully on how you feel on the state.”

Cllr. Massaquoi further stated, “It is uncalled for to hear the Attorney General making such a statement when Liberia is at a crossroad and at a critical stage and we should manage the fragile peace. One of the best things they can do is negotiate and that will show that strength and not weakness.”

Another lawyer, Cllr. Stanley Kparlillen also opined that what should be most important for the Ministry of Justice is knowing the leaders of the protest, instead of the organizers for articles of incorporation.

He said it is protesters responsibility to hold a peaceful march along with the security providing protection.

He said it is not the responsibility of the Justice Minister to interpret what the Constitution says.

Cllr. Francis Allison, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court also described as unconstitutional the Minister’s request.

Cllr. Allison, also a former Justice Minister said, “The Constitution gives the citizens the right to protest, the Constitution doesn’t require that, so the request by the Ministry of Justice is not constitutional.”