Liberian President Moves to Decriminalise Libel

Liberian President, George Manneh Weah, has resubmitted to the Legislature a modified bill to decriminalise speech offences and create a free media environment in Liberia.

The Bill, which was submitted on May 31, 2018, seeks to amend Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President; 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence.

In a communication addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Parliament), President Weah said the initiative was in line with the constitutional guarantee for freedom of speech and expression, which also provides caveats regarding abuses.

President Weah said the move reaffirms his government’s commitment to upholding the Liberian constitution and other International Treaties relating to Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression.

When enacted into law, it will be known as the Kamara Abdullai Kamara Act of Press Freedom, in memory of the deceased journalist and press freedom campaigner, Kamara Abdullai Kamara who, until his death, served as Chairman of the Board of Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding, and was a former President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL).

The process to decriminalize press offences in Liberia began in 2017 with then outgoing President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. On July 20, 2017, President Sirleaf submitted the criminal libel amendment bill to Parliament, but the House could not pass it before it vacated ahead of presidential elections on October 10, which went into a run-off on December 26, 2017.

One of the biggest threats to press freedom in Liberia is rampant criminal libel suits resulting in excessive prison sentences and fines. MFWA, therefore, welcomes the move by President Weah as it is in line with our call on him, upon his assumption of power, to prioritise the decriminalisation of libel.

While we commend the President, we also urge the members of the Liberian House of Representativesto support the Bill and pass it into law.

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