Anti-Free Speech Laws ‘Abolished’

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…As Senate Concurs With House

By Necus M. Andrews

Members of the Liberian Senate have voted to concur with the House of Representatives to finally repeal a long-existing Penal Law of 1978, which impedes freedom of speech and of the Press in Liberia.

The law has been a storming block for free speech, expression and freedom of the press to fearlessly work because it considers critical expression, especially directed at the President and public officials as Criminal Libel, Sedition and Criminal Malevolence.

The decision of the Senate to concur with the House means the anti-free speech clause placed under the Liberian Penal Law of 1978, Chapter 11:11, 11.12 and 11.14 is now repealed. However, the Bill must be signed by the President as required by law and printed into handbill before taking effect.

The Bill, known as the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom, was introduced by President George M. Weah on June 5, 2018 and passed by the House of Representatives July 3, 2018.

The passage of the bill was triggered by the Senate Committee on Information and Broadcasting, recommending to the Senators to pass the Bill due to its importance in protecting free speech in the country.

The Committee said the Bill met all legislative proceedings because the expertise of various media groupings, including the West African Journalists Association (WAJA and the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and Internews, an International media development organization.

The Committee quoted PUL President Charles Coffey as saying that press freedom has been the focus of media struggle in Liberia.

Mr. Coffey said as quoted in the Committee’s report that anti-media laws have over the years been used against the Liberian media, citing criminal libel against the President, Sedition and Criminal Malevolence as references.

“Such laws prohibit the media from providing balanced and timely stories, and that this limits the media adequately reaching out to the public,” the committee report quotes the PUL President as saying.

The committee report also quoted the President of the West African Journalists Association (WAJA) Peter Quaqua as saying the Bill does not only protect journalists, but the public as well.

The Committee said following series of hearings in determining the basis for passage of the Bill, it is convinced that the Bill be passed to repeal the Liberian Penal Law of 1978.

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