Court Places Injunction on Press Union Election, Amid Complaint of Irregularities

MONROVIA, Montserrado – The Civil Law Court of Monrovia on Saturday placed a preliminary injunction on the leadership election of the Press Union of Liberia.

The order followed claims of irregularities by some members of the Press Union, including Omecee Johnson, Siebo Williams, and Sekou Sheriff, an associate member of the union who was recently expelled by the leadership for unruly conduct.

The men had petitioned the court to cancel Saturday’s elections, claiming that the activities that preceded the election violated the union’s constitution.

According to the court’s document, the petitioners requested that the leadership could not go ahead with the election due to what they described as “inconsistencies” of the union’s membership roll, claiming that a huge number of those qualified to vote do not meet the requirements to become full members of the Press Union.

They noted that individuals who were not journalists, and whose applications were not submitted to the secretary-general and subsequently forwarded to the membership committee as stipulated by the Press Union’s constitution, should be considered illegal.

They also accused the leadership of willfully violating the union’s constitution by not publishing the total membership roll 30 days prior to election day.

In their petition, the petitioners said Sheriff’s recent expulsion did not meet the requirements of the union’s constitution, which provides the procedure for a member to be expelled. They contend that Sheriff was not accorded due process and that his expulsion was illegal and done with malevolence.

According to petitioners, if their concerns are left unaddressed, the “continuous glaring, deliberate and flagrant constitutional breaches and violations” perpetrated by the leadership of Charles Coffey, could put the union’s integrity in question.

The petitioners also drew attention to what they say is the union’s failure to provide copies of financial reports and statements, as well comprehensive reports of programs and projects during its three-year stewardship, as required by its internal rules.

The writ was served when members of the Press Union had begun casting their ballots on Saturday, after the union’s fourth congress officially kicked off on Friday, instead of Thursday, because of poor attendance on the first day.

The assigned judge at the Civil Law Court, Roland Dahn, directed the Press Union’s president, Charles Coffey; secretary general Daniel Nyakonah; the head of the union’s election committee, Jarlawah Tonpo; and other members of the committee to avoid further proceeding with the elections until the court finally wades into the matter.

“You and all person or persons whomsoever acting directly or indirectly under your supervision or authority are hereby temporarily restrained and enjoined from further proceeding to conduct the elections of corps of officers of the Press Union of Liberia and other election-related activities thereto, until the court shall finally determine the petitioner’s petition which is now pending before it. Or until further notice from the court,” the judge wrote.

Tonpo received the writ and immediately contacted the Press Union’s leadership and its lawyer, Bobby Livingstone, who immediately proceeded to the court to file a response to the petition.

Hours later, Tonpo convened a press conference and informed members of the union about the court process, and that a new date for the election would be announced on Monday, November 11.

He said members of the elections committee were “law-abiding people” and that they would pursue every legal requirement to continue the election. On Monday, however, no new date was announced for the election.

Some members of the union have blamed the union’s current vice president and rival for the union’s presidency, Octavin Williams, secretly masterminding the petition to the court.

But Williams denied the claims to supporters on Saturday. He noted that he was not named on the writ.

Coffey, who still remains the union’s president, encouraged members of the union to remain law-abiding and committed to the democratic process. He also assured that the leadership election would eventually be held.

Featured photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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