WE DO NOT have $US1.5 Million to pay Dr. Chris Toe so the Supreme Court may want to extend its ruling a little further and order us shut down: PERMANENTLY!
THE SUPREME COURT of Liberia came down with a ruling Tuesday, July 16, 2013 agreeing with a Civil Law Court’s decision that FrontPageAfrica is liable for damages in the tone of US$1.5 Million to former Agriculture Minister Dr. J. Chris Toe.
THE SUPREME COURT’S decision is obviously a very sad day for free press in Africa’s oldest republic, still recovering from more than a decade of Civil War which forced many into exile, killed scores of others and left many more maimed, shattered and broken.
THE WAR in Liberia was long in the making. A rice riot on April 14, 1979 was followed by a military coup on April 12, 1980, one year later, ending decades of Americo-Liberian rule.
THE USHERING IN of a military regime was dominated by chants and a quest to lift Liberia from the ashes of an era where the rich, upper class dominated and those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder remained entrenched in poverty.
FOR ALMOST a decade, the reign of Samuel Doe was marred by criticisms, several coup attempts and plots by many now serving in the Liberian government today, who took Doe to task for corruption, nepotism and a gross violation of human and basic rights.
TODAY, SADLY, many of those who fought the good fight and are now occupying high positions in government, from ministerial to the high court have apparently forgotten the reason this country went to war.
THE LIKES of Chief Justice Francis Kporkor, Kabineh Ja’neh and Phillip Banks are all sitting on a bench now holding a place in history as the orchestrators of a plot to silence an independent newspaper over what every Liberian know was a very bogus case to begin with.
WHAT IS SHOCKING to us is that the opinion was delivered by an Associate Justice, Philips A.Z. Banks, who has been on the receiving end of many critical and investigative pieces published in FrontPageAfrica, notably, the Knuckles-gate Scandal and the controversy surrounding the reproduction of the Liberia Law Review.
ON AT LEAST one occasion, Dr. Banks during a plane ride with a mutual friend of the FPA Publisher, when asked how he thought the FrontPageAfrica case would go, told the friend, “They will never win that case”.
TODAY, DR. BANK,S, presiding over a case with some obvious bias feelings and motivation from a few other officials who have also been on the receiving end of our investigative stories, have decided to begin the process of shutting down our newspaper.
DR. TOE, a former Minister of Agriculture filed in the Civil Law Court at the Temple of Justice at its March 2010 term on an 18 count complaint for libel against the FrontPage Africa Newspaper through its managing editor Rodney Sieh and reporter Samwar S, Fallah. In the complaint the plaintiff alleged that the defendants/appellants with malicious intent to injure his image and damaged his reputation, developed over many years had published in the newspaper and on the internet a number of deliberate false and malicious stories accusing of acts that constituted crimes under the law. The complaint stated that the allegations and accusations contained in the news stories published by the defendants/appellants both in local media and on international websites were lacking truthfulness.
DR. TOE prayed the lower court before which he has filed the complaint to enter judgment in his favor and award him the amount of (US$2,000,000.00) plus payment of all cost and expenses due to the malicious and false stories wherein he was accused of the commission of criminal acts.
THE JURY returned with an unanimous verdict of liable against the FrontPageAfrica, awarding the Dr. Toe the amount of US$1.5 million as damages suffered.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA, unhappy with the way Judge Yussif Kaba handled the case and ignored clear evidence of jury tampering on the part of Dr. Toe, decided against appealing before a Supreme Court with previous bias against the newspaper publisher.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA INSISTS that the decision by lower court was a travesty of justice because the jurors were corrupt and the court biased. We simply had no hope of a better outcome. The publisher told the Committee to Protect Journalists: "It doesn't help us to keep wasting money and resources.
FRONTPAGE AFRICA REPORTED that, during the trial, prosecution lawyers bribed at least two jurors, one of whom signed an affidavit claiming she received US$2,500 in exchange for a guilty verdict. "You had a case where one of the juror said they were bribed. You had an opposition lawyer talking to one of the jurors outside the court. The judge allowed the case to go on. In any other country it would have been thrown out. It's frustrating."
ASSOCIATE JUSTICE BANKS, in his opinion, claimed that the high court was deprived of that opportunity to review the verdict and the judgment confirming same by the failure of the refusal of the appellants to comply with the statutory requirements for perfecting and appeal therefore, the high court had no choice but to dismiss the appeal and affirm the judgment of the lower court. “Wherefore based on all of the relevant laws cited, that the verdict of the empanelled jury and the judgment rendered thereon by the trial judge confirming the said verdict be confirmed; and that the appeal taken there from be dismissed. And we so ordered” said the Supreme Court ruling. In the opinion, the clerk of the court was hereby ordered to send mandate to the lower Civil Law Court directing the judge presiding to resume jurisdiction over the case, give effect to the opinion and enforce the judgment and costs adjudged against the appellants/defendants.
THE SUPREME COURT’S decision, we believe boils down to one simple fact: That this government is unfairly targeting our publication because of the numerous investigative reports we have published over the years. Millions of dollars have been stolen from the Liberian people and no major official, former or current have been brought to book.
THAT THE SUPREME Court still harbors malice against our newspaper over a previous encounter with the publisher and is using this ruling to send a message in what is obviously poor taste.
THE GOVERNMENT remains silent on the implementation of the UN Panel of Experts Report regarding the forestry sector which has clearly in no small measure pointed the finger to long-time presidential aide, Medina Wesseh, a good friend of Associate Justice Banks.
WHAT SURPRISES us is that Chief Justice Kpokpor, from what sources tell us, insisted on using this ruling to in his words: Send us a message not to repeat this in the future.
WHAT JUSTICE KPORKPOR and his bench have failed to take note of is that our publication against Dr. Toe was based on a whistleblower’s account of Dr. Toe’s alleged misdeeds during his tenure at the Ministry of Agriculture; A senior officer at the General Auditing Commission testified about Dr. Toe’s misdeeds in specific details during the trial. More importantly, the jury and probably the judge was compromised. The Publisher informed then Associate Justice Kporkor of this, hours before the verdict was handed down by Judge Kaba.
IT IS CLEAR from our experience here that justice is blind in Liberia today. This is why we were reluctant to pursue Judge Kaba’s ruling to a higher power. Today, the highest legal power in Liberia has sided with the corrupt, with a ruling that has made our case in black and white: Justice is blind in post-war Liberia, especially for a vibrant and independent media regarded for exposing the ills and holding corrupt government officials to the fire.