President Weah submits bill to repeal certain limitations on free expression
The newspaper Front Page Africa is facing a 1.8 million USD civil defamation lawsuit for publishing an advertisement on land administration in March 2018. On 9th April, summons were delivered to the newspaper's offices, and the court temporarily shut down the newspaper and briefly detained seven of the newspaper's journalists. Owner of Front Page Africa Rodney Sieh informed the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he and the newspaper had been harassed on social media prior to the lawsuit for the newspaper's critical reporting. Angela Quintal, Africa programme coordinator for Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), stated that:
"Liberia has a troubling history of libel lawsuits where applicants ask for exorbitant damages simply to harass and intimidate journalists, resulting in their imprisonment or the closure of news outlets".
As reported previously on the Monitor, after a week-long visit to the country in March, UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression David Kaye has called on the government to remove legal barriers to freedom of expression.
On 31st May 2018, President Weah resubmitted a bill to repeal certain sections of Liberia's Penal Law of 1978, in particular sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President, 11.12 on sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence. President Weah explained to the National Legislature as follows:
"Honorable Speaker, Chapter 111, Article 15 of the Constitution provides for Freedom of Speech and expression and a caveat of an abuse thereof. Additionally, Liberia is a signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration which demands that African countries abolish insult and criminal defamation law".
As reported previously on the Monitor, President Weah had affirmed his commitment to encourage and support freedom of expression in his inauguration speech in January 2018.
On Friday, May 11, 2018 SMART Liberia joined the protest to raise awareness on the SAJJ House Restaurant's sexist and racist policy discriminating against black women and to call on government's intervention. We say NO to RACISM and SEXISM.#SMARTLiberia #changeahead pic.twitter.com/zhPOrOIoEG— SMART Liberia (@SMARTLiberia) 15 mei 2018
On 11th May, protesters gathered in front of Sajj Restaurant House in Monrovia to denounce the discriminatory policy of the restaurant against single black women, who were often denied entry when not accompanied by men, a practice that went on for several years. The protesters included prominent women rights advocates, such as Yvette Chesson-Wreh, head of the Liberian Women Situation Room and coordinator of the Angie Brooks International Center for Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security. Authorities suspended the restaurant's license until a set of conditions were met, including a fine of 3,000 USD, a public apology to the women of Liberia and a corporate social responsibility project of no less than 2,500 USD and support to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that focuses on disadvantaged women.
On 5th June 2018, protesters blocked the main Monrovia- Kakata highway over a legal battle in regards to the ownership of Fendall Land, near the main campus of the University of Liberia. Protesters expressed their anger with the delay in a court ruling on the legitimate ownership of the land, calling the land deed the government submitted a fake. A legal battle ensued after residents' properties were demolished in April 2016.
On 13th May 2018, medical doctors went on a strike after the end of an ultimatum put forward by the Liberia Medical and Dental Association (LMDA) and the Liberia Medical and Dental Council, demanding the payment of three months of arrears in salaries for doctors and incentives for interns, and the reinstatement of doctors who were, according to the organisers, mistakenly taken off the payroll as 'ghost workers' in a payroll cleaning exercise. The strike was suspended days later after an agreement was signed with the Ministry of Health and the Heath Committee of the House of Representatives.