The Legal Consultant of Albany Associates Ltd. is calling on the government and other stakeholders to work together to ensure that Criminal Libel and other laws that affect freedom of speech and the press are repealed to enhance freedom of expression in Liberia.
Dr. Juan Barata said though Liberia has solid legal standards when it comes to free speech, laws and decrees must be consistent with international best standards and practices, and cited Decrees 20 and 46 instituted by the People’s Redemption Council of President Samuel K. Doe in the 1980s as laws that are against free speech and free press.
Dr. Barata made the call in his overview of the “Media Law Review and Policy Regulation Study Report” at the start of a two-day Liberia Media Development (LMD) Program, with a critical look at Media Law and Regulatory Reform.
The exercise is hosted jointly by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Albany Associates and Internews at a local hotel in Monrovia.
The Albany Law Consultant pointed out that the two instruments established a tight system of government control over media outlets as well as a state broadcasting system which is under full political control of state authorities.
“These decrees place immense power in the hands of the Ministry of Information, which is given very broad and vague discretion to authorize, decide and punish content issues. This in itself represents a very serious threat to freedom of expression and establishes an authoritarian system of media regulation,” Barata stressed.
He added that the Penal Code of Liberia incorporates several provisions that have negative impact on the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information which, according to him, contravenes international best standards and practices.
Barata noted that in keeping with international standards, the use of criminal instruments to punish the abuse of the rights of defamation, insults, among others, represent a disproportionate restriction to freedom of expression.
The legal expert also called for other laws such as sedition and criminal malevolence to be repealed because they do not match international best practices, as international standards call for higher degree of criticism and scrutiny from the media and public of public figures and governments.
He pointed out that the offences of sedition and criminal malevolence in sections 11.12 and 11.14 of the Penal Code incorporate series of vague provisions that are subject to open and arbitrary interpretation.
Barata urged stakeholders at the conference to use Civil Law as the only instrument for compensation and redress.