Kelvin Nyan Suah
Message SIMEON FREEMAN HAS A RESPONSIBILITY TO THE LIBERIAN POPULACE – TO PROTECT OUR FRAGILE PEACE THROUGH RESPONSIBLE STATEMENTS Democratic tenets, with it freedom of speech, call not only for responsible government, but also for responsible opposition, responsible media institutions, and responsible citizenry. The conglomeration of these fosters and nurtures a peaceful, prosperous society. This holds true for established and emerging democracies, the latter to which Liberia belongs. It is based on this theorization that I have come to hold Simeon Freeman, political leader of the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC), accountable to prove to Liberians that there are 10 prominent citizens, including himself, on a blacklist of the Government of Liberia’s death squad – if in fact the Government has a death squad. Across social media and in Frontpageafricaonline comment field, I have been reading mixed reactions to the Government’s attempt to arrest Mr. Freeman. I am not surprised by the mixed reactions. They come with the enrooted beauty of democracy. However, what I am interested in is the imagined implications of the alleged statement made by Mr. Freeman, and why I think the Government has acted in the rights to give Mr. Freeman the chance to prove his claim. Mr. Freeman’s alleged announcement through the mainstream media that the Government has marked 10 Liberians for death, including Benoni Urey, George Weah and himself, falls within the perimeters of his inherent rights to free speech. But, free speech doesn’t provide for citizens to propagate speculations which have the propensity to be contentiously perilous to the peace of a post-war nation.
Therefore, in the same vein that an argument can be made that Mr. Freeman has the civic rights to enjoy his freedom of expression, I would make a case that he has a responsibility both as a political leader and as a citizen to ably and responsibly provide to the public information that is void of any innuendo that could breed and perpetuate violence. When a very grave accusation is made that could threaten the stability of our existence as a nation, the government and the media and citizens have the right to know the truth behind such accusation. It is therefore not only legal, but also very responsible for the Police to question Mr. Freeman on the basis of his public statement, and if suspected of any wrongdoing, to forward him to court to enable him prove his claim. We as a people do not need a modicum of disinformation to offset the fragile peace we enjoy today. Freeman’s claim that the Government has a death squad to eliminate 10 prominent Liberians has the proclivity to fester violence in the cleavages of our society.
Factually, Liberia is in a state where it is imbued with all the recipes for violence – high unemployment (especially among the youth), social injustice, social disorganization, social inequality, corruption, poverty, and intolerance/ignorance among others – which if not properly managed, could drive social movements. It is for this reason that we cannot have people, especially public figures, making unsubstantiated statements with the hope of scoring political points; and who at the same time ignore the repercussions their utterances have on our society. My fellow Liberians, gone should be the days when our political and student leaders would often make unsupported statements only to gain prominence. In our contemporary Liberia, we all should be held accountable for statements we make even as we enjoy the conceptual ‘free speech’ that comes with democracy. Mr. Freeman could be saying the truth – that his and others lives are in danger, but he has the responsibility to prove that, especially when he makes a pronouncement in the media that he has uncovered a plot. I read comments from some Liberians that “…even in the USA we have freedom of speech….” We are quick to draw parallels between governance in the USA and governance in Liberia, which is good. Disappointingly, however, what we often fail to reference is how democracy actually works in the USA. Democracy in the USA has a responsible government, a responsible opposition, a responsible media, and a responsible citizenry.
As such, if Mr. Freeman were in the US and he went to the media and claimed that he has uncovered a plot wherein President Obama and the Democrats have ‘death squad’ ready to assassinate 10 prominent Americans, including Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, not only would the FBI and the entire security community have been interested in him, but also the media and the citizens would have wanted to know the truth. Hence, the Liberia National Police has done nothing wrong. Simeon Freeman should avail himself of the law and prove his claims that the Government has 10 Liberians blacklisted for assassination, or face the consequence – as ascribed in the organic law of our Nation – of spreading disinformation. We as a people should grow up as our democracy matures. Only then, would Liberia grow.
Kelvin Nyan Suah is a student at the University of Toronto