President Sirleaf submits bill to decriminalise press offenses

Expression

On 23rd January 2017, Liberia’s Information Minister, Eugene Nagbe, verbally attacked a female journalist when the journalist asked about a conflict between the Nagbe and opposition Member of Parliament Moses Kollie. Media organisations across Liberia condemned the incident. Infinity Broadcasting and Managers of Power TV lodged a formal complaint with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Liberia’s umbrella media association, that was supported by video evidence of the Nagbe yelling at the journalist to “go and ask her boyfriend, Representative Moses Kollie”. Secretary General of the Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL), Antoinette Sendolo, denounced the Minister's “unruly attitude” and demanded a “prompt public apology” to the concerned journalist. The Reporters' Association of Liberia also called the attack “unjustified and provocative”. On 7th February, the Minister apologised to the journalist at a meeting organised by the PUL to resolve the matter. FeJAL and the journalist accepted the apology.

On 20th July, President Sirleaf submitted a bill to parliament to decriminalise press offenses, in particular, libel. Entitled “An Act to Amend the Liberian Codes Revised, Penal Law of 1978”, the bill is expected to be passed before the general elections in October 2017. In regards to the sections of the law that may be repealed, the Liberian newspaper - The Newsreported that:

“These sections of the law have been bottlenecks to the practice of journalism and free speech in the country over the years. Public officials have taken advantage of these sections to threaten people involved in free speech”.

CIVICUS Monitor research partner reports that the media in Liberia and civil society organisations in and outside the country have long advocated to have sections 11.11, 11.12 and 11.14 of the Penal Law Code of 1978, Chapter 11, repealed. They have called upon the House of Representatives to pass the bill, an act which would also fulfill President Sirleaf’s longtime electoral promise of decriminalising press offences.

Peaceful Assembly

On 12th May, United Methodist University (UMU) students protested over the influx of expired goods into the Liberian market, which has adversely affected consumers’ health. The protesters stormed the Ministry of Commerce and Industry demanding the immediate resignation of Minister Axel Addy. The police cracked down on the protesters, forcing them to disperse, which they tried to resist by throwing stones at the police and consequently damaging police cars and other properties. Several students were wounded and detained in the clashes. Those arrested were charged with criminal conspiracy, physical obstruction of government functions, criminal trespassing and rioting.

On the same day as the UMU protests, Liberian women and men dressed in black gathered to protest the government's continued delay in passing the Domestic Violence Bill. They carried placards with various inscriptions to draw lawmakers' attention to the importance of passing the bill. The bill was finally passed by the House of Representatives on 21st July, but without a provision banning female genital mutilation (FGM), which has caused continued concern among civil society groups campaigning against FGM.