LIberia’s Alternative National Congress “Notes With Grave Concern”

ANC Press Release

 

The Alternative National Congress (ANC) notes with grave concern the arrest of radio talk-show host Henry Costa on charges of making “terroristic threats.”  We believe Mr. Costa’s arrest and detention is unconstitutional and, for the reasons stated below, he should be released promptly.

First, on its face the central allegation against Mr. Costa does not provide probable cause for his arrest and detention, let alone for his trial and conviction. According to the writ authorizing Mr. Costa’s arrest, the key allegation against him is that he publicly challenged another individual to a duel. Even if this allegation is true, we are hard pressed to see how, without more, challenging another person to a fight or a duel—as distasteful as it may be—rises to the level of a terroristic threat. Accordingly, unless the Government or the “private prosecutor” who brought the case against Mr. Costa makes public additional evidence justifying Mr. Costa’s arrest, we urge the courts to promptly release him from further detention.

Second, we believe Mr. Costa was denied his constitutional right to bail. As we understand it, Mr. Costa put up $3,000 Liberian Dollars to satisfy his bail requirement, an amount the courts have previously found sufficient to satisfy the bail requirements of other persons charged with similar offenses as Mr. Costa. However, the judge before whom Mr. Costa appeared following his arrest denied him bail on the ground that he is required to post bond in the amount of $3,000 U.S. Dollars. Requiring Mr. Costa to post bond in U.S. Dollars when others have been allowed under similar circumstances to post bond in Liberian Dollars clearly violates Mr. Costa right to equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Moreover, the timing of Mr. Costa’s arrest—on a Friday afternoon—appears to be deliberately calculated to ensure that he spent at least the weekend in jail. Mr. Costa made the alleged terroristic threats several weeks ago and the Government or the private prosecutor therefore had sufficient time to bring charges against him. Yet they waited until a Friday afternoon weeks later to charge him and seek his arrest. Because of the impending weekend and the closure of the courts, the timing of Mr. Costa’s arrest necessarily meant that he had no time to immediately appeal the denial of his right to bail or to timely secure the required bail amount, thus ensuring that he spend the weekend in jail.

Third, we simply find it difficult to comprehend how the arrest and detention of Mr. Costa serves to benefit anyone, including the Government. Mr. Costa’s past record of criticizing the Government is bound to create the perception that his arrest and detention has more to do with his position as a persistent and sharp critic of the Government then with any “terroristic threat” he is purported to have made. By his detention, the Government therefore runs the risk of being perceived yet again as intolerant of criticism and the free exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression by journalists and radio-talk show hosts, like Mr. Costa. This certainly does not serve the interest of the Government or of Liberia as a whole.

Finally, it is not lost on us that that the “private prosecutor,” the alleged target of Mr. Costa’s threat, is the head of the National Security Agency (NSA). As much as the NSA Chief may try to make this a private matter between him and Mr. Costa, it is simply impossible to avoid the perception that he is acting in his official capacity and that his action can thus be attributed to the Government. Indeed, as has been pointed out, a plainclothes NSA officer was on hand for the arrest of Mr. Costa.

In view of the foregoing, we at the ANC strongly urge the Government to promptly drop the charges against Mr. Costa and release him from detention forthwith.

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