Email and Treason
By Mohamedu F. Jones, Esq
November 7, 2002
This morning, I registered the following email address, email@example.com, with the password "clayashland." This is the message I received from Yahoo: "Thanks for registering with Yahoo! Mail! Your account is now active and you can send and receive messages immediately with your Yahoo! Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org." Of course, I have no intention of using this email address, but set the account up to demonstrate that with the free email services, one can set up any name that you select, so long as it is not being used by another account.
On November 1, 2002, the Monrovia City Court issued an order of arrest for the crime of treason, charging that "Aloysius Toe, conspired, connived, and acted in cohort with LURD-Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy forces to overthrow the constitutionally elected Government of Liberia by use of force and replace with an unconstitutional "Interim Government" as reflected in the proposals revealed in the E-mail." The writ stated further that: "In furtherance of defendant's evil design, and following various plans and discussions with his colleagues executives of LURD, he, defendant Aloysius Toe was sent an E-Mail with captioned YAHOO Mail - email@example.com, dated Tuesday October, 1, 2002 by the National Executive Committee, The Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, LURD Voinjama, Liberia, by and thru the Office of the Political Advisor, Tel: 0031302421273 Email; Cbdennie@hotmail.com."
Free public email accounts are central to the charges against Mr. Toe and is the prima facie evidence presented by the Ministry of Justice to substantiate the issuance of a warrant of arrest for him. However, as I have demonstrated, one can set up a free email account using any pseudonym not already being used on that service. In addition, the writ states that Mr. Toe received the email, not that he sent it, thereby making him a passive participant in the process. As all of us know, the holder of an email address has absolutely no control over who sends emails to him or her, or their contents.
A passive act, which receipt of an email is, can never be treason under any circumstances. Treason, which is a constitutional crime in Liberia, requires affirmative actions, undertakings and/or deeds. You cannot passively or unwittingly commit treason; treason requires overt acts. This is a long-standing principle of Liberian treason jurisprudence. The treason provision of the Constitution is clear and unequivocal. Generally, the rules of constitutional interpretation instructs that words should be interpreted according to their plain meanings and ordinary usage, unless it is clear that the framers intended some other meaning as presented in the context. Every provision of Article 76 begins with an action word or phrase.
Let us examine each provision of the treason article:
Article 76(1): "Treason against the Republic shall consist of: Levying War against the Republic." The action word here is "levy."
Article 76(2): "Treason against the Republic shall consist of: Aligning oneself with or aiding and abetting another nation or people with whom Liberia is at war or in a states of war." The action words here are: "aligning," "aiding" and "abetting."
Article 76(3): "Treason against the Republic shall consist of: Acts of espionage for an enemy state." The action phrase is "acts of espionage."
Article 76(4): "Treason against the Republic shall consist of: Attempting by overt act to overthrow the Government, rebellion against the Republic, insurrection and mutiny." The action phrase here is "attempting by overt act."
Article 76(5): "Treason against the Republic shall consist of: Abrogating or attempting to abrogate, subverting of attempting or Conspiring to subvert the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by any other means which attempts to undermine the Constitution." The action phrases are: "abrogating or attempting to abrogate," and "subverting or attempting or conspiring to subvert."
It is beyond dispute that the actions of the members of the so-called Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) constitute treason. It is also clear that the war they are waging is a crime against humanity; it is a violation of the human rights of the people of Liberia. The members of LURD definitely violate Article 76(1) of the Constitution in levying war against the Republic, other provisions of the treason article, as well as other human rights provisions of international law. They must end this war in the best interest of Liberia and its people.
It is elementary law then, that the recipient of an email, regardless of the contents, without more, is insufficient to form the basis of a warrant of arrest for any offense, much less treason. There is no way that receiving an email, standing alone, can constitute an overt act, a basic requirement of treason. That the government would issue a warrant of arrest based on the receipt of an email, violates the constitutional and legal rights of Mr. Toe; that a magistrate would issue an arrest based on such a legally flimsy allegation exemplifies the continued subservience of the Liberian judiciary to abuse by the executive.
What is particularly dangerous is that the government would use an email as the basis for charging a person with treason. We can all imagine how easily it would be to set up charges against anyone on this premise, by sending them "treason" emails. I wonder what arrest charges would arise, and who would be charged, if firstname.lastname@example.org were to send an email to the Minister of Justice, directing him to arrest the entire legislature and judiciary. This would be a clear violation of Article 76(5), which prohibits acts "abrogating or attempting to abrogate," and "subverting or attempting or conspiring to subvert" the Constitution. Of course, arguably, Dahkpana Dr. Charles Ghankay Taylor, already abrogates, attempts to abrogate, subverts, attempts, and conspires to subvert the Constitution daily anyway. The issuance of this arrest warrant based on the information contained in it is further affirmation of this.