The Press Union of Liberia has given the country’s Chief Justice – Johnny Lewis - a 48-hour ultimatum to return still cameras he ordered his security to seize from a 30-year veteran photo journalist. Journalists had gone to the Supreme Court of Liberia Thursday to cover some important cases which were being heard there, including the case against former interim president Gyude Bryant.
Sando Moore, editorial supervisor and director of photography for the independent Daily Observer newspaper, told VOA Chief Justice Johnny Lewis ordered his security to confiscate the cameras because the Chief Justice did not want his picture taken.
“I started taking pictures of the dignitaries just before the court opened, including lawyers and associate justices. When the Chief Justice arrived, I took a picture of his convoy, and then as he disembark from the car, I also took a picture of him. Then I decided to move closer to do a close up shot of him. To my utmost surprise, the Chief Justice asked me, why did you take my picture? He told the UMIL (United Nations peacekeepers in Liberia) soldier to seize my camera. He (the soldier) threatened to break my camera if I didn’t release the camera to him,” he said.
Moore said he released the camera to the Chief Justice’s security for fear he could damage the camera by trying to wrestle it from the security.
He said Chief Justice Lewis has had a history of being harsh on the media for minor issues.
“Just about few months ago, the Chief Justice had come down on the press, especially editors. In fact he said that some people were misspelling his name. He even gave us a warning, saying that come the New Year, which was this year, if anybody was found printing his name in the newspaper or anywhere else without the correct spelling, he would deal with that person,” Moore said.
Moore said while he was not too surprised by the Chief Justice’s order to confiscate his camera, he was shocked that it would happen at a time that Liberia is supposed to be enjoying a new democratic dispensation.
“For the Chief Justice to behave in that manner, I was taken aback because I have thought that we were done with all these kinds of arbitrary actions from power brokers. I tell you, the Chief Justice was completely arbitrary, and I would term that as an abuse of power. I said to myself, if the Chief Justice, who is supposed to be final arbiter of justice in the country, can treat me like this, whom do I run to if somebody offends me in this country. I felt very bad about that,” he said.
Moore said the Press Union of Liberia has given the Chief Justice a 48-hour ultimatum to return the confiscate equipment.
“The Press Union came out and gave a 48-hour ultimatum to the Chief Justice to return my camera and apologize to me for infringing on my human rights. The Press Union President, George Barpeen, said if he (the Chief Justice) does not comply with the ultimatum, he would face the wrath of the Liberian press,” Moore said.
Moore described Chief Justice Lewis as unpredictable and said he was not sure if the Chief Justice would heed the press union’s ultimatum.
“It’s difficult for me to say because the Chief Justice is somebody who is very unpredictable when it comes to dealing with the press. At times people think that he’s a law unto himself. He does things that nobody would imagine that a chief justice would do during this era of a new political dispensation. So to be frank with you, I can’t say whether the Chief Justice will give me my camera or whether he won’t do it,” Moore said.