FrontPageAfrica vs. Supreme Court: Chief Justice’s Order Disrupts Protest



– Nat Nyuan Bayjay, nbayjay@frontpageafrica.com

Source: Frontpage Africa

Monrovia –

PEACEFUL PROTEST: Displaying placards such as ‘Stop the re-occurrence of the old order!’, and ‘Freedom of Speech must be respected’, the group of concerned students and youths stood quietly in front of the main building in the compound of the Temple of Justice just as the trial was slated to begin in a few minutes.
Marshalls of th Supreme Court escort protesters off the grounds of the justice building.
Protesters make their case shortly before they were ordered to leave the Supreme Court grounds.
A protester is dragged from the grounds of the Supreme Court Tuesday shortly before hearings commenced in the Supreme Court vs. FrontPageAfrica.

On the day the Editor-In-Chief and Publisher of the FrontPageAfrica Newspaper and online media outlet made his third appearance to honor a previous six-day ultimatum given him by Supreme Court of Liberia, an unfavorable scene of violence engulfed the compound of the Temple of Justice as court sheriffs and security personnel combined and inflicted wounds and bruises on several student advocates and other concerned youths who had gathered peacefully Tuesday morning in protest to the Editor’s trial.

The action of the Supreme Court guards was in a prompt response to Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis’ order to have the compound cleared off the protesting group of youths and others who were seen displaying placards in protest of the ongoing trial involving Rodney Sieh of FrontPageAfrica, a case they describe as one that is being intended to bring the independent media into submission.

Displaying placards such as ‘Rodney Sieh is being witch-hunted’, ‘Stop the re-occurrence of the old order!’, and ‘Freedom of Speech must be respected’, the group of concerned students and youths stood quietly in front of the main building in the compound of the Temple of Justice just as the trial was slated to begin in a few minutes.

Then drove in Chief Justice Lewis’ convoy which got him immediately attracted to the placards on display after which he requested to see the leader of the group. After a few seconds interaction, he ordered his guards to clear the protesting youths out of the premises of the Supreme Court.

“I don’t want to see them here. Get them out!” were the commanding orders that in no time led to scrambles between guards and some court sheriffs of the Temple of Justice on one hand and the defenseless youthful group, numbering over 20 of them.

Insisting that it was a violation of their right to a peaceful assembly, the protesting youths’ refusal to leave was met with harsh treatment from the hands of the combined forces of both the security guards and court officers.

The ensued scramble then turned violent. Wanting to implement the order of their Boss to the letter, Supreme Court guards flogged the youths in a bid to get them out of the court yard. Vallai Dorley, one of the leaders of the gathered group, became the first to be manhandled as he was shoved out of the compound. Another of the protesting youths sustained serious bruises. Yet, the persistent students who by then had been successfully shoved out of the court yard, remained out of the gates of the Temple of Justice continually displaying their placards most of which had been torn out from the violent ‘clearing of the yard’.

Utmost Surprise

Jacob Jallah, spokesperson of the group, told journalists that it was with utmost surprise that they watched themselves being bundled out of the Temple of Justice “as if we are animals, as if we were causing any disturbance.”

“We have only gathered here today to tell the Supreme Court that it should give the Editor a fair trial but from what we are seeing here today-which I will say with no fear-is that it is saddened to see that the Chief Justice has a personal interest in this case. I mean, why would he command that we be humiliated and ill-treated by his security men when all we are asking for is free trail which we are doing peacefully? This is not a violent demonstration”, Jallah said.

Clamp-Down on Civil Rights

The youths described the Chief Justice’s order as a clamp down on their civil rights.

The spokesperson of the group noted, “This is a clamp-down on our civil rights to assembly peacefully. We are not the only ones who have come here on the premises of the court holding placards; other previous and even ongoing cases, like the recent Caesar’s rape case and even the very Angel Togba case that is causing all this have had people coming on these very grounds and holding placards with no order from him to have them thrown out.”

“Independent Press Being Drawn Into Submission”

The twist of the case and Tuesday’s violent incident seem to be enough reasons for the youths’ calling for foreign intervention: “We are calling on foreign missions and other partners to interview because we foresee a case that will not be free and clear. We think the independent press is being drawn into submission. We think this is an attempt to hammer the independent media because the Chief Justice has an interest in this case. We will say this fearlessly; otherwise he would not have behaved the manner in which he just did a few minutes ago.”

Many have condemned and frowned on the manner in which the Supreme Court, the highest court in the nation, has been holding Editor Sieh responsible for an opinion letter published in the October 25th edition of the FrontPage Newspaper, which they perceive as an infringement on the rights to freedom of expression.

Article 15 (b) of the Liberian Constitution states: “The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.”

Sub-section (a) states: “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.”

In the letter, an opinioned writer named Garsuah Gborvlehn highlighted what he considered as biasness, discrimination and prejudice in the interest of the convicted felons, Hans Williams and his fiancée, Mardea Paykue, allegedly exhibited by Justice Gladys K. Johnson.

Tuesday’s appearance of the Editor in Chief followed previous appearances last week.

During last week Monday’s appearance, Chief Justice Lewis, presiding as a local state prosecutor, was directing Journalist Sieh on a witness stand before a crowded audience in the Chambers of the Supreme Court to answer question.

Following the reading of the citation by the Chief Clerk of the Supreme Court, Martha Bryant, Justice Lewis ordered the writer to come forward and inquired from him about his legal counsel, which Sieh pointed to Cllr. F. Musa Dean of the Dean And Associates as his lawyer.

To the amazement of the audience Cllr. Dean admitted that he is the lawyer for FrontPage Africa, but in the instant case, declined to announce legal representation of his client, on whom behalf he had pleaded many times.

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