In Reaction to Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) Press Release dated 16 January, 2020, the Solicitor-General and Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Liberia, Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus, has described as very unfortunate and absolutely disgraceful but not surprising, an emotionally charged press release issued by the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) at the behest of its “political activist President”, Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe, publicly rebuking and condemning him for a recent statement allegedly “attributed” to him (Cllr. Cephus).
In the Press Release, the LNBA accused Cllr. Cephus of “threatening to arrest Cllr. Finley Karngar, a member of the LNBA, for his (Kangar’s) alleged failure to produce the living body of Henry Costa, whom he had signed for at the Liberia Immigration Service(LIS) and promised to produce, whenever needed but who has fled the country.
The LNBA release said assuming that Cllr. Finley did sign for Henry Costa to have him produced whenever needed by state security for an investigation, he (Cllr. Kangar) was no longer under obligation to do so, because the Liberian Government knew that Costa had fled the country and that the Government said it had begun arrangements with its Sierra Leone counterpart to have Costa extradited to Liberia, and therefore, the guarantee note executed by Cllr. Kangar had become moot.
The LNBA release further noted that Cllr. Cephus being the Solicitor-General of Liberia and also a member of the LNBA, lacks the legal authority to arrest a member of the LNBA who has not committed any offense under Liberian law, and therefore, called on Cllr. Cephus to “exercise his authority within the scope of the law, and with regard to the rights of all Liberian citizens, including lawyers, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Liberia and the international bill of human rights.”
Concluding, the LNBA press release further warned that “it will not tolerate any violation of the rights of lawyers in the execution of their professional obligations to their clients by the Solicitor General or any official of Government” and reminded the Solicitor-General to always take cognizance of section 12.70 of the Penal Law which prohibits the abuse of public office.
The Press Release said that the LNBA will not hesitate to institute actions and impose appropriate sanctions on Cllr. Cephus if he were to carry out the “threatened arbitrary arrest” of Cllr. Finley, in order to send out a clear message that the Bar will not condone the subjection of lawyers to harassment by state actors and shall always defend lawyers in the protection of their duties.
But in a carefully worded press statement, Cllr. Cephus categorically denied the allegation and said that he is taken aback that the LNBA press release which he said is solely based on an alleged recent statement “attributed” to him as a person, in particular, and his office, as the Solicitor General and Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Liberia, without the courtesy of first reaching out to him and then ascertaining the facts as to whether or not such statement was ever made.
Cllr. Cephus termed as “absolutely baseless” the LNBA’s statement that he lacks the legal authority to arrest a lawyer, noting that as Solicitor-General and Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Liberia, he has both the statutory and constitutional power and authority to arrest any violator of the law, including but not limited to any lawyer who will deceive state security by signing for an accused person facing criminal investigation, and thereafter, aiding and abetting the accused person to escape criminal prosecution.
Cllr. Cephus who is also a certified counsel of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, The Netherlands, and Vice President of the Madrid based AEA International Lawyers Network, described the LNBA press statement as an unprovoked attack on his person, image and profession as well as the office of the Solicitor-General, and noted that it is quite shameful and totally embarrassing that the LNBA leadership purportedly comprising of seasoned and professional lawyers, could not summon the unbridled courage and character to invite him to a conference, or present to him any complaint emanating from any member of the LNBA, seeking his side of the story, if any, before issuing such an emotionally charged and disdainful press release.
He said if Cllr. Gongloe is responsible enough and knows the values and tenets of a responsible leadership, he would have called a meeting of the Executive Council of the Bar, solicit suggestions before issuing any press release that denigrates a member of the LNBA.
Cllr. Cephus said the press statement issued by Tiawan Gongloe in the name of the LNBA is nothing but a libelous campaign purely intended for publicity purposes, and therefore advised Cllr. Gongloe to desist from taking unilateral actions and using the name of the LNBA to besmear the characters of those who do not share his political view.
Cllr. Cephus further described the LNBA press release and its unfounded allegations as nothing but a “verdict” without a trial and stressed that the LNBA needs a responsible leadership, with a cool and modest temperament that will accord every citizen including its members a fair hearing, no matter the gravity of the allegations “attributed to them”.
He added that the issuance of the press release by the LNBA merely on the basis of a recent statement “attributed” to him without any formal investigation to establish the fact, demonstrably shows that the LNBA is facing a serious leadership crisis, and needs the help of senior lawyers to redeem it from the clutches of blind political activists, to once again assume its pioneering role as a responsible democratic institution.
Cllr. Cephus said the LNBA leadership in recent times has been hijacked by political activists and radicals that are using its strips and edifice to propagate their own selfish political agenda to the detriment of other LNBA members.
In the release, Cllr. Cephus noted that the allegation contained in the press release by the LNBA is nothing but its (LNBA) own figment of imagination, either driven by ignorance or mischief or both, and interspersed with personal hatred and jealousy of its political activist President Taiwan Gongloe simply to tarnish his enviable legal credentials as a former defense counsel, spanning over a decade, in clear violation of his constitutional rights to due process.
Cllr. Cephus in the release reminded the LNBA to take judicial cognizance of Article 20(a) of the 1986 Constitution by according all and any of its member falsely accused of any incident a fair and just hearing consistent with due process prior to issuing threats to impose “appropriate sanctions.”
Cllr. Cephus also reminded the LNBA’s political activist President and leader of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) Cllr. Gongloe that the constitutional rights that are accorded legal practitioners under Article 21(i) of the 1986 Constitution, do not include the right to execute guarantee notes in favor of an accused person, undergoing formal criminal investigation, but rather the right to be present at every stage of an investigation and provide legal guidance to the accused person.
His release further described as appalling the claims by the LNBA Press Release and its political activist President Tiawan Gongloe that once the Government of Liberia was aware that Costa was in neighboring Sierra Leone, the information rendered the guarantee note executed by Cllr. Kangar moot, and therefore, he (Cllr. Karngar) was no longer under any legal obligation to produce or answer any question regarding Costa’s appearance for investigation.
Cllr. Cephus said such a level of reasoning by the LNBA press release written at the behest of its political activist President, Tiawan Gongloe unwittingly exposes not only the intellectual bankruptcy of Tiawan Gongloe in particular but also highlights the seriousness of the crisis that exists between his intention and expression when it comes to addressing critical national issues.
He said it is all too clear that there is serious leadership crisis in the LNBA for the fact that the Press Release issued is premised on what the LNBA termed “a recent statement attributed” to Cllr. Cephus, and without inviting to hear his side of the story, if any, proceeded to maliciously attack his person and position as Solicitor-General and Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Liberia.
Cllr. Cephus however reminded the LNBA and its political activist President that public knowledge about the whereabouts of Henry Costa did not in any way render moot or terminate the guarantee note or preclude Cllr. Finley Kangar from producing Mr. Costa for investigation whenever he was needed.
Cllr. Cephus noted that given the fact that he too was once a public defender, and provided legal services to clients in similar circumstances, he has been out rightly reluctant to hold Cllr. Finley Kangar to the terms and conditions of his own guarantee note, and further called on the LNBA not to create the mistaken impression that lawyers are above the law and can do anything and go with impunity.
He said signing a guarantee note in favor of a criminal defendant to produce him/her at any time when needed is not one of the rights that is constitutionally guaranteed especially so when the criminal defendant takes to flight.
Cllr. Cephus said as critical as the payment of Bar due is for the smooth running of the LNBA, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe is yet to pay his Bar due for the year 2020, which is a sheer demonstration that he is not leading by examples; instead, he spends a lot of time, sitting comfortably behind the title: “President of the LNBA” and issuing unnecessary press releases, badmouthing the government of Liberia and its officials for all the wrong reasons.
Concluding, Cllr. Cephus reminded the LNBA to be responsible and respectful in dealing with allegations involving Liberian citizens, not least LNBA members who do not share the political view of its political activist President.
He maintained that the office of the Solicitor-General and Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Liberia will always uphold the rule of law and will use the appropriate provisions of the law to hold accountable individuals be it legal practitioners regarding the full implementation of the legal instruments executed by them no matter their status or profession, without fear and favor, the press release by Solicitor-General & Chief Prosecutor Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus. Concluded