Liberia: Prosecuting Instigators of ‘Threats’ & Assassinations’ on Social Media A Tough Call
Monrovia – Late last week, Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, administrator of the hugely popular Darius Dillon Intellectual Exchange issued a word of caution to his followers that any post containing threats of assassination and/or any form of unlawful threats against the President of Liberia or any other person on his forum would be deleted and the poster – real or fake, blocked.
The caution came just a day after the chairman of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, Mr. Mulbah Morlue threw pointed jabs on leaders of opposition political parties for what he termed as their silence not condemning alleged calls for the assassination on the life of President George Weah.
Morlue blamed those who allegedly did the post(s) on social media, according to him, as opposition political parties’ supporters. “It is unfortunate that no leader from the opposition bloc has condemned recent calls by known supporters of opposition political parties calling for the assassination of President George Weah on Social media. Added Mr. Morlue: “They have realized that you cannot win this man who has changed lives. Supporters of Alexander Cummings, Joseph Boakai and Charles Brumskine are on social media calling for the assassination of President Weah.”
Mr. Morlue’s concerns were triggered by February 6, 2019 posting from an individual identified as Mzee Abraham K. Kamara II, who wrote: “This man (President Weah) is a serious calamity in our land that needs to be assassinated or impeached, other presidents were seriously advocating for their country but this unprepared democratically-elected president was found discussing football. You are a disgrace to our land.”
Another poster wrote: “I’m calling on all Liberians to pick up arms and rise up against this CDC government.” While Pauline Anderson, another, in a separate post wrote: Pres. Weah needs to be ASSASSINATED 4 the good of Lib. NB: I’m beyond your reach CDC, nothing you can do 2 me. PROUDLY American.”
The allegations of threats to assassinate the President followed several postings in recent days, also suggesting that key critics of the government including Mr. Dillon and talk show host, Henry Costa.
Online Threats New Phenomenon
Costa says for the first time since he began his political commentary and advocacy on air some seven years ago, he is deeply troubled about his safety and his radio station. “Yes, there were threats in the last administration, but I believe the threat level has been escalated to a degree that concerns me greatly and it is sad. And what’s sadder even is that the powers that be are dead silent about this and they continue to fan the flames of hatred towards the media and opposition. When the President openly labels critics of his administration as “enemies of the state”, in my opinion, it gives rise to sentiments of hatred against anyone who dares to speak out about the ills in government. However, while I am concerned, I am not intimidated, I am not slowing down now, and certainly not kowtowing to their madness.”
Online threats are becoming a new phenomenon for some Liberians who are taking advantage of the anonymity in some cases on Facebook to launch open threats as in the case of one Molubah Tokpah who posted an open call for the assassination of key opposition figures – Charles Walker Brumskine of the opposition Liberty Party, Joseph Boakai of the former ruling Unity Party and Mr. Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC). “Let the Whole World know this today. We the 85% of the Liberian Population happily voted George Weah as our President. If anybody wants to become Mr. or Madam President, let him or her wait for the Presidential Election. Failure to wait for election, if any attempt is made on the life of President George Weah and his family. Liberia will immediately turn into a Ghost Land. Alexander Cummings & family, Joseph Boakai & family, and Charles Brumskine & family will be immediately move on and instantly kill all of them as well. So, opposition blocks, be strongly warm, never be stupid & silly to assassinate the Liberian people choice, President Weah. Our reactions will be very nasty.”
The threats from both sides of the aisle is a mimicking reminder of the alleged failed April 1, 1985 attempt by Moses M. D. Flanzamation, who was deputy commander of the Presidential Guard of late President Samuel Kanyon Doe.
Flanzamaton was executed after what was said to be an attempt to kill head of state Doe.
Flanzamaton had named four opposition politicians in a plot to kill Doe. But following his execution, the politicians were all released. The four politicians – Gabriel Baccus Matthews of the United People’s Party, Counselor Tuan Wreh and Harry A. Greaves of the Liberian Action Party and Dr. Edward B. Kesselly of the Unity Party – were arrested after Flanzamaton reportedly said they had asked him to kill Doe so that they could form a coalition government.
At the time, Doe said that while it would appear logical that aspiring politicians might be connected with plots, ″this is not the case under the present circumstances. And as one who believes in justice and fair play, my conscience cannot allow such misleading information to gain credence. ″
Threats Violation of Penal Code
For many Liberians, the changing realities of the country’s rugged history has been modernized with the advent of social media making it more and more complicated to decipher fact from fiction.
Legal observers say very few Liberians are knowledgeable of the fact that such threats could lead to felony charges.
Section 14.24 of the Penal Code Laws of Liberia, states: “A person is guilty of a felony of the third degree if he threatens to commit any crime of violence with the purpose to terrorize another or to cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation, or otherwise to cause serious public inconvenience, or in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience.”
Section 14.25, titled “Menacing” goes a step further in stating that a person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree if he knowingly places or attempts to place another human being in fear by menacing him with imminent serious bodily harm.
Regarding threats against the President and successors to the Presidency, the law states: “A person is guilty of a felony of the third degree if he threatens to commit any crime of violence against the President of the Republic of Liberia, the President-elect, the Vice President or, if there is no Vice President, the officer next in order of succession to the office of President of the Republic of Liberia, the Vice President-elect, or any person who is acting as President under the Constitution and laws of Liberia: (a) By a communication addressed to or intended to come to the attention of such official or his staff; or (b) Under any circumstances in which the threat is likely to be taken seriously as an expression of settled purpose. “Threat” includes any knowingly false report that such violence is threatened or imminent.”
Expert: Framework for Probing Lacking in Liberia
Many legal pundits say, while a lot of the threats spark cause for worry, authenticating and tracking those making them can pose problems for law enforcement, particularly in Liberia
Frank Musah Dean, Minister of Justice says his ministry is in the process of instructing the related investigative security agencies to investigate but some technology experts see a challenge.
Mr. George Fahnbulleh, a US software developer with over 20 years’ experience in electronic forms, architecting database and software says the challenge for Liberia in the use of the technology implementations and tools used to ferret out anonymous social media user is that each user “leased” IP address is logged by his/her service provider (phone company), for the time and duration. “So, a basic log would include IP address and date/time of use. If a social media post is made by a user at 2:43PM, the social media company (Face Book) logs the IP address. A government entity can then subpoena the IP address of a specific post and then request from the phone company the owner of the device that used that IP address at the specific time.”
In a nutshell, Fahnbulleh asserts, the IP address from which the post was made, was being used by John Collins at the time. “This would require some government entities to have both the legal framework and the technical capacity to make the requests and act on them.
No such framework/entities exist in Liberia to my knowledge.”
Globally, dozens of Threats Led to Arrests
Across the globe, dozens of people have found themselves arrested and jailed for making terroristic threats on Facebook and other social media.
In 2015, an Atlanta woman, Ebony Dickens, was indicted by a grand jury for posting terroristic threats on Facebook against white police officers. Dickens, 34, was first arrested on April 28 for allegedly making the posts in the wake of a series of controversial police shootings across the country.
In the Netherlands last August, A 26-year-old man was arrested at The Hague’s main railway station after placing a video on Facebook in which he appears to say he is planning to attack the parliamentary complex or the organizer of a cartoon competition, police have confirmed. PVV leader Geert Wilders was organizing a controversial Mohammed cartoon contest.
In 2013, A 15-year-old Chicago teen was arrested and charged with a felony after he posted on his account that he would commit “mass murder” if George Zimmerman was found not guilty, which he later was.
Justin Carter, a 19-year-old was thrown in jail for making a Facebook comment referring to shooting up a kindergarten. “I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten… And watch the blood of the innocent rain down…And eat the beating heart of one of them.” Massachusetts student Cameron D’Ambrosio, 18, was arrested and jailed for three weeks after posting rap lyrics to Facebook. The lyrics suggested that he wanted to outshine the actions of the Boston Marathon bombings.