Liberian Government Violates the Constitutional Rights of Radio Veritas

By Mohamedu F. Jones

The Perspective

August 31, 2001

Editor's Note: A Liberian lawyer, in an Open Letter to the Liberian government, through its Minister of Information, Hon. Reginald B. Goodridge, Sr, argues that the government of Liberia refusal to renew the short-wave license of Radio Veritas, a Catholic Radio Station, is a violation of the constitutional rights of that entity. This is the second time in less than two years that the government has shut down this station. Below is the text of the Open Letter dated August 31, 2001:

Dear Minister Goodridge:

Let me begin by informing the Minister that in Liberia, a "privilege" is a constitutionally protected right. According to recent media reports, it appears that the official policy of the government of Liberia regarding a short-wave broadcast license, is that such a license is a "privilege and not a right." Even under this characterization, the denial or revocation of a short-wave broadcast license to Radio Veritas, as it has been reported in the media, constitutes a violation of fundamental constitutional rights. The 1986 Constitution purposefully provides "heightened" protections of "Fundamental Rights."

As provided for in Article 20 of the Liberian Constitution, no person may be deprived of "property" or "privilege," without a "hearing judgment" consistent with the Constitution and "in accordance with due process of law." Here, the corporate entity of Radio Veritas is the constitutional person. If Radio Veritas previously held a license, then the government's denial of a duly submitted application to renew or in acting to unlawfully revoke the license, once Radio Veritas has complied with the legal requirements, constitutes an unconstitutional deprivation of property. If they seek a license for the first time, then the denial constitutes an unconstitutional deprivation of a privilege. In either event, this action violates Article 20.

Moreover, Mr. Minister, this action violates the constitutional right of citizens and residents of Liberia who listen to short-wave broadcasts of Radio Veritas. These citizens and residents possess a fundamental "right to knowledge" under Article 15. The right to knowledge encompasses the right to listen to the short-wave broadcasts of Radio Veritas. The action of the government in unconstitutionally denying the station's license is a violation of this fundamental right.

Article 15 is intentionally expansive and broad: it secures to the people the right to "receive and impart knowledge and information" and the right of institutions to make such knowledge available. There is no constitutional doctrinal reason that the protection extended to academia and libraries specifically in the Constitution is not afforded similarly to Radio Veritas or any other legitimate purveyor of information and knowledge. The constitutional burden placed on the government where it attempts to regulate the rights propounded in Article 15 is very high, and any such regulation, must be consistent with the constitution and in accordance with due process of law.

Lastly, Article 15 (c) provides that "there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries." If it is the objective of Radio Veritas to so inform the people, then this act of the government constitutes a violation of this fundamental right, since the denial of a license under the circumstances is tantamount to a limitation on the public's right to be informed about the government.

Please note Mr.. Minister that these rights may not be limited, curtailed or restricted by the government except, as provided for in Article 15 (a): a constitutionally declared state of emergency. There are no other circumstances under which the government may lawfully act to curtail, limit, or restrict these rights. This action against Radio Veritas is clearly an unlawful and unconstitutional violation of Article 15 (a).

Mr. Minister, this action by the government is plainly a violation of the constitutional right of Radio Veritas because it unlawfully deprives the station of its property and of a privilege without due process of law. It is further a violation of the constitutional rights of citizens and residents of Liberia who listen to the station on short-wave because it denies them the right to knowledge and information, including their fundamental right to be informed about the government and its functionaries.

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