In Liberia, the publisher of the Plain Truth newspaper and the general manager of the Seamarco Printing press will appear in court Tuesday to answer charges of sedition, criminal libel and malevolence.
Syrenius Cephus and Michael Makinde were arrested and jailed after the paper ran an article in its December 9th edition claiming that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government supplied arms to dissident forces in neighboring Guinea.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia
Sylvester Rennie, one of the lawyers for the two men said the government cannot arrest an individual for the action of a corporation.
“Our corporation law is clear as it relates to the entity, the shareholders and those individuals who run the corporation. Under our laws, an individual cannot be personally held libel for the actions of the corporation. If a corporation is to be sued, it must be sued by and through the entity,” he said.
Rennie said the Plain Truth newspaper and the Seamaco Printing Press are both corporate entities, and therefore the government charges against Cephus and Makinde should have been brought through their corporate entities.
He would not say whether the legal technicality he was citing was another way of saying that the charges against his clients should be dropped.
“We have not gone to the nitty-gritty of the story. As I grant this interview, I’m not even prepared to disclose any information because the matter is before the court. So anything that we say here could be used by the adverse party against us,” Rennie said.
Liberia’s deputy information minister Cletus Sieh said the Plain Truth newspaper committed ethical transgression by libeling the president.
“As far as we are concerned, the Plain Truth is an irregular newspaper, a tabloid that comes out once in a while, and Mr. Cephus has committed these ethical transgressions therefore he must answer to the law,” he said.
Sieh said President Sirleaf has made clear that Liberia will not be used as a stepping stone for insurrection in the West Africa sub-region.
He said the Plain Truth article endangers the lives of Liberians living in Guinea.
He dismissed accusation by some media advocacy groups that the government’s use of criminal libel against Plain Truth and its publisher was an attempt to suppress freedom of the press.
“This government is not going to muscle the press. We still encourage press freedom, freedom of speech and what have you. But these freedoms come also with responsibility. And whenever these publications endanger the lives of our people and cause security problems, of course the government must act,” Sieh said.
Sieh said Liberia seeks to encourage peace, good neighborliness and security for the countries of the West Africa sub-region because an insurrection in one country affects all the countries in the sub-region.