By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
One incident that was lionized in several dailies yesterday was the arrest and detention of Henry Costa, the owner of VOICE FM, who is also the host of the popular talk show “THE COSTA SHOW.” Initially, it was reported the broadcaster Costa, along with several others were arrested for allegedly violating the curfew. But the others were released, except for Costa, who is still in police cell.
Later, it was gathered that his reported arrest was in connection with circumstances concerning the deportation of a Lebanese, Sam Fawaz, whose deportation Mr. Costa had been linked to. In fact, whenever I hear about this allegation against Costa, I always wonder as to whether he has power, authority or control over the deportation of people. Is he now an authority of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN)?
Yesterday, the FrontPage Africa, citing security sources recently reported that Mr. Costa was the subject of an ongoing investigation by the National Security Agency (NSA) in the recent deportation saga of Mr. Sam Fawaz, a Lebanese national whose mysterious deportation sparked a political frenzy.
A senior police official, however, informed FPA that Mr. Costa was arrested along with Samuel K. Doe Jr., after the stipulated curfew. Fawaz’s surprise return to Monrovia on January 11, 2015 after he was reported to have died in a prison in Lebanon last year raised questions about the nature of his purported deportation.
FPA gathered recently from sources within the NSA that the interest in Costa is based on a complaint filed by Mr. Fawaz. “That is true; there is a joint criminal investigation that is ongoing with police and immigration on how the young man was illegally deported from Liberia without court proceedings. The basis of this complaint that was filed by Mr. Fawaz alleged that Mr. Costa played a central role in his illegal deportation,” a senior NSA official, speaking on condition of anonymity told FPA recently.
As the arrest of Costa claimed public attention, the Liberia National Police has disclosed that Liberian journalist; Henry Costa was already wanted by a joint investigation team. In a release issued on Sunday, a day after his arrest the police explained that about 012hrs, on Saturday February 7, 2015, Mr. Costa was arrested and carried to the LNP Headquarters along with 17 others for curfew violation.
The police said upon turnover to the LNP Charge of Quarters, it was revealed that “Mr. Costa was already wanted by a Joint Investigation Team comprising LNP, BIN, and NSA for an ongoing investigation in which he was allegedly implicated. Furthermore, the police said owing to this, he is being held in police custody pending investigation by the joint investigation team.
For its part, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), in as press release on the arrest, challenged the Government of Liberia to walk up to its professed belief in free press and open society by unconditionally releasing Mr. Henry Costa from further detention, stop further harassment of the Voice FM Family and open the National Chronicle Newspaper. The PUL said it is rather disappointed that government will be abusing such basic and fundamental rights of innocent citizens, within days of President Sirleaf announcing a commitment to decriminalize speech offenses. This action is double standard and betrays the confidence of the Liberian people.
The PUL is concerned that regardless of the offense that Mr. Costa might have committed, the government needs to engage him in accordance with the law and not through chicanery. Using the curfew as a pretext to arrest anyone for another crime is so wrong. “You cannot be talking of free speech, while at the same time harassing and arresting journalists seen to be radical or offensive on obstinately bogus charges,” the release signed by the PUL President Abdullai Kamara alarmed.
Accordingly, the Union recalled several abuses of media freedom last year, including the arrest of the very Costa, just days after the first joint meeting to review the draft law to decriminalize press; the harassment and detention of Octavin Williams on a trumped up charges of driving an unregistered vehicle and simple assault; the terrifying armed attack upon the Chronicle Newspaper and its subsequent closure; the humiliation of Women Voices Publisher, Helen Nah for reporting corruption in the police, among others. “This trend is just despicable and unacceptable, and can never be testimony to a free press regime,” Kamara berated.
Regrettably, the Union said though it raised all of these issues at the highest level of the government, and yet there has been no action to point out that the government has been in violation of basic and fundamental human rights. It said what is more worrisome than the arrest is the denial by police and security authorities to permit lawyers and international human rights monitors to have access to Costa and increasing reliable information we are getting about plans already in advance stages to shut down the Voice FM.
On this issue, I take interest in the matter concerning the police press release on the matter. I am always concerned about the conduct of the police because my mother worked for the force for many years before she was honorably retired. As someone who benefited from the meager income of my mother, I am always encouraged to deal with issues concerning the force for which, I always feel indebted to the force.
Fortunately, the present Director, Col. Chris Massaquoi, then in the traffic section, was my mother’s boss. It is for this connection and that of his mother from Sinoe relationship with my mother that we refer to each other as cousins, and so I would not sit supinely if things are not being done properly.
Frankly, for sometimes now I have been hearing about this matter involving this young Lebanese that has led to division among some members of the press. One group is accused of complicity in the deportation, while the other group is said to be “stooges” for Sam to challenge the legality of his deportation.
My concern is the point made by police that “Mr. Costa was already wanted by a Joint Investigation Team comprising LNP, BIN, and NSA for an ongoing investigation in which he was allegedly implicated. Now for the sake of argument, if Costa was wanted for investigation, was there any “DUE NOTICE, ” otherwise also referred to as “ADEQUATE NOTICE to that effect?
Notice, as we know, under our jurisprudence, is very important and of essence in such a matter. Even if such matter was taken to court notice should be given to the other party. This is why sometimes it is necessary and prudent to do what is known as “notice by publication,” which puts the public and the person concerned in the know of the matter.
Is the LNP suggesting that Mr. Costa has been in hiding? This, I find hard to believe because the young man had always been on the radio and that there has been no information that he is wanted for any investigation. Even if he was informed and did not comply, the public has the right to know. But to arrest while leaving for work for curfew, was ill-advised, as this many raise many questions as to whether or not this was in connection with his job, as talk show host, as was reported in newspapers yesterday, with the PUL calling on government to release him and stop arresting journalists.
For sometimes now I have written many articles on the continued closure of the National Chronicle, and now it is the arrest of a media practitioner. All of these do not augur well for the level of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. If the government had a matter on this man who is conspicuously seen around, even last Friday on his show, it should have raised it earlier. But to come out now is belated and to claim that he was “wanted by a joint investigation team,” is unpersuasive in legal domain and in the realm of logic.
Indeed, the government has committed a major blunder which is akin to stabbing oneself in the leg, considering the praises about the issue of freedoms. Even report that he has been denied, access to his lawyers, food and that his administrator to have even been picked is disturbing because if this is about deportation and not media related activities, why then, was his administration? Don’t ask me for the answer on this aspect.
As it is said, “what is not done legally is not done at all.” Once more, government erred on this matter, as it cannot show any proof of Costa being in hiding or failing to turn out for investigation. I hope it has taken note to avoid its recurrence, as the government has blown the situation out of proportion and has brought about undue publicity. I Rest My Case.