Written by J. Aloysius Toe
While sitting here in the academic sanctuary of the United States, I have been following your saga with the Supreme Court of Liberia.
|Chief Justice Johnnie C. Lewis|
In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am shocked but not surprised at the actions of Chief Justice Johnnie C. Lewis and his bench! I am Shocked because this action of a supposedly reasonable jurist like Justice Lewis is a poisonous bullet fired in the spinal chord of our emerging democratic tradition of free speech.
I am not surprised because I, too, personally received similar intimidating communication sometimes ago in 2008 (?) when I served as a panelist at the World Press Freedom Day celebrations at the invitation of the Press Union of Liberia during which I criticized the unlawful closure of the Independent Newspaper and cautioned that the Executive should not use the judiciary to muscle the press.
In that letter, the Clerk of the Supreme Court wrote: “Dear Mr. Toe: By directive of His Honor, Johnnie C. Lewis, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, you are ordered to produce copy or recordings of your speech and/or all statements delivered at the World Press Freedom Day Celebration in which you reportedly made comments in reference to the courts of Liberia…”. In my case, I presented copies of my statement through my lawyer at the time but indicated to Justice Lewis in a written communication that his actions suggested a hovering cloud of intimidation and suppression of basic freedoms reminiscent of the past of Liberia; and that nobody on earth could cow me into submission.
While your case may be a test case to gauge the direction in which Liberia is moving in terms of respect for free speech, it remains a highly deciding moment to pass judgment on the legal and moral rectitude and commitment-to-convictions & principles of Justice Francis Korkpor (former Chairman and lead lawyer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission – JPC), Justice Jamesetta Wollokollie (relentless advocate of human rights, gender equality and former strong voice in the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia – AFELL), Justice Kabineh J’aneh (who before his rebel association – had exhibited strong commitment as a human rights lawyer defending the poor). All of these justices condemned the Taylor’s administration for violation of free speech.
We wait to see what the outcome of their contempt proceedings will be. But whatever be the outcome, I encourage you to accept their verdict gracefully and with peace of mind, remembering the tragedy of Socrates and the saga of Antigone. Whether or not our Justices of the Supreme Court rationally believe that your action to publish the letter contravenes the law and brings the court to public ridicule (untruthfully) or they are simply accomplishing for the executive branch that which the executive branch could not accomplishing for it self for your critical stance on corruption against it, will be a matter for history to judge.
Lastly, brother in the fight, I want to paraphrase and use the words of an old Black American woman, Sister Pollard to the late civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to encourage you: “Know that we are with you. And even if we aren’t with you, the Almighty God is with you”. God is on your side! I believe the moral weight of the universe is with you because you are on the side of justice.
Remembering Albert Porte: one day we shall win that victory of free speech!
Yours in Solidarity
J. Aloysius Toe