Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Comm Teck: A New Dimension in Liberia’s Development Agenda

By Bill K. Jarkloh/ PIWA (ICT Fellow)

The growing competition of mobile communication – especially GSM companies in Liberia – has been benefiting the people of the country and makes the instancy of communication reliable. This was the case of a just ended treason trial in Monrovia, when the relatives of acquitted defendants took over the ground with mobile phones calling their distance relatives, family people and kinsmen from the interior of the country and from the diaspora.

The acquitted defendants, former Liberian General Charles Julu and retired Colonel Andrew Dorbor were accused last year of a plot to overthrow the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Government, but the case of which a previous verdict of a jury trial was set aside on a defense lawyers’ allegation of bribe solicitation against the Jurors had a none jury trial that ended Friday, 02 May 2008 with an acquittal.
Following pronouncement of the acquittal of the two former military brass, their family people, kinsmen and well-wishers started to jubilate, and their jubilation took the trend of mobile phone celebration. Shouting on their various phones, the families, friends and well-wishers were seeing in varying direction communicating to people afar minutes from the courtroom, relating the acquittal to people of distance.
Besides, journalists were using the cellphones to contact their respective radios, and television stations and newspaper officers to break the landmines acquittal of people accused. The scene was so much exciting that that area –front views of the Temple of Justice was turned to a mobile phone jubilation party.
“You see, the cell phone makes it easier now days,” a man who called himself Philip Jardea told this reporter when he was asked whether their families abroad will know about this acquittal the very day. The case was important so much on ground that it has been as far as history is concern that a Liberian government charges someone with treason and the person gets acquitted, except that such may be through an intervention of Executive Clemency.

…“Cellphones Have Made It Easier”-Says A User

Mr. Jardea said he was telling Grand Gedeans the news of the acquittal of their kinsmen that were released based on acquittal judgment by the court. In any case, GSM companies are competing covering the borders of the country. At president, Liberia has four GSM companies. The first was LoneStar Communications, the second was Libercell of the Atlantic Wireless (Liberia) Ltd, first in term of non-GSM prepaid mobile phones. The two were followed by CELLCOM Communications and then COMIUM Communication.
As we speak, all of these GSM phones which started beaming signals from Monrovia have covered nearly the 15 counties of Liberia, making instant communication possible between families and people in Liberia.
Before that time, communication was done through letters, and it could take months or years for one family man to hear from the other from either abroad or within the same Liberia.
As my colleague Mae Azango of FrontPageAfrica.com reports Bolahum, Lofa County, she discovered that the any environment or community is bound to be backward in absence of Mobile communication, in that people everywhere nowadays want access to communication in order to keep in touch with families, friends and loved ones. Mobile communication in most parts of rural Liberia is accessible due to GSM services provided by the four mobile communication companies - Lone Star, Cellcom, Liber Cell and Commuim.

Some elders in Massabolahun, a village in Kolahun district say their constituents have to go to specific elevated areas to catch a small signal only of Lone Star to communicate.
However it was discovered recently that in parts of Lofa County , northwestern Liberia , access to mobile communication is poor.
Kolahun which is the largest district in Lofa is backward in GSM communication. People wanting to communicate through mobile with their families and friends have to go to specific elevated areas to catch a small signal only of Lone Star to communicate. The rest of the GSM companies do not have signals in these areas. Hence the questions: What happens to one in times of emergency, when you have to take a dying person to the hospital with in thirty minutes? When will you walk to the spot to call and get help?

Massabolahun, a village in Kolahun district with 6,000 and 200 inhabitants and 450 houses suffers the problem. Mamadu Konneh, town Chief of Massabolahun told FPA that they are suffering in getting the signal of Lone Star GSM in their area. “We always have a lot of death cases that would not have occurred if we had efficient communication (mobile) service. The small signal we are getting is coming from Foya.” (Foya is another district). He expressed his thanks to Lone Star, saying “thank you Lone Star you are doing well, but you have to work harder because you have more Costumers in this part of Lofa.”
But Massabolahun is not the only community where people have to find elevated areas to communicate. A similar situation exists in Bolahun, Nevertheless Lone Star is as far as Manikorma, the bordering town with Sierra Leone and other bordering towns with Guinea and in the Sierra Leonean village of Baindu .
At the Lone Star GSM head office in Monrovia , FPA spoke with Mr. Theo Greene, an employee of its Customers Service. He told our reporter “we will discuss it with our technicians to see how best they work toward it.”
Before the coming of Lone Star, Liber Cell operated in Liberia as Atlantic Wireless, and dealt only with satellite phone services which most people could not afford at the time. In May 2001, Lone Star open and later brought her first GSM Erickson phone for $US 100.00 a piece, sold SIM card or chip at $US65 and the lowest recharge card at $US15.00.
However because of the intense competition, Lone Star was forced to bring down her price when Cellcom brought Motorola C-15 phones for US$49.00 a piece and sold sim or chip with units at US$5.00. Many consumers started buying phones and taking them to rural Liberia to sell at US$55.00 a piece.
This compelled Lone Star to bring a consignment of phones which sold for US$40.00 a piece. When Cellcom saw this, she brought in a consignment of Motorola C-13 for US$39.00, US$29.00, and US$15 a piece, depending on the season/time they were imported into the county. But at present, Cellcom still has her phone at US$29.00. Now, Lone Star has brought in a new consignment of phones, going for US$25.00 a piece.
The Interesting factor now is that people all over Liberia has begun to browse the internet through the use of Mobile Phones, and each company has tried to ensue that it avails internet GPRS in its services to the people.

Sequel to a Verdict: As Dorbor, Julu Celebrate Victory, Liberia Cries Foul

05/03/08 - Bill K. Jarkloh, FPA Staff Writer

Monrovia -

It was freedom at last for the treason defendants when the presiding judge of the Criminal Court ‘A’, His Honor, Peter W. Gbeneweleh, pronounced a not-guilty verdict and final ruling which electrified the jammed parked courtroom with applauses from the a suspicious crowd of relatives and well-wishers of the accused, while state prosecutors and apprehensive legal practitioners as well as curious journalists who stormed the courtroom to know the outcome of the legal proceedings of the treason trial of two former military officers were watchful of the scenario, the frontpageafrica.com/ reports from the Temple of Justice.

But not too long following the verdict, Justice Minister Philip A. Z. Banks condemned the ruling of Judge Gweneweleh and said it demonstrates his incompetence as judge, and vowed that the Government would gather more evidence to pursue the treason case against the two acquitted individuals, Julu and Dorbor.

Family members and well wishers of Dorbor and Julu celebrate the not guilty verdict last Friday in Monrovia.
Retired General Charles Julu and former Armed Forces of Liberia Colonel Andrew Dorbor were charged with treason for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Administration, but the jury de facto and judge of the second trial, His Honor, Gweneweleh, said the prosecution “miserably failed to produce” corroborative evidence that would prove the treason charges brought against the defendants as set forth in the indictment.

“Determination of the case,” the Judge notwithstanding said, “is whether or not the prosecution has established sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that may warrant conviction of the two defendants.” He made the statement shortly after the trial judge parading the courtroom with testimonies of the seven witnesses that the State Prosecutors – Montserrado County Attorney Samuel Jacobs and Counselor Joseph Constant –produced in court.

The final hearing of the case started about 2:00 pm (1400) hours universal time (GMT) at the Temple of Justice on the Capitol Hill. Before the trial got underway, hundreds of court audience trooped to the Temple of Justice ground as early as 10:AM to inquire of the time of the final judgment, and they were told by court bailiffs that the hearing was set for 2:PM Friday, May 2, 2008.

Getting Started at the Court

All the fainting expectations were awakened at 13:10hrs or 1:10 Liberia time when a convoy of a white mini-bus sandwiched by a Correctional office motorbike at its front and a Pakistani UNMIL jeep at its back scurried into the courtyard of the Temple of Justice at which time curious journalists scrambled for shots of the accused who were destined for their freedom or doom.

A rushing crowd of audience at the entrance of the court forced court bailiffs assisted by police to demand a queue and search before admission into the courtroom, and few minutes later at 13:59 (1:59PM Liberian time) the Judge and Jury de facto walked into the courtroom, took his throne with the usual rise of court audience in respect of honor due him.

The defendants were represented Cllr. T. Dempster of the Center for the Protection of Human Rights, Cllr. Thompson Jabbah – Center for the Protection of Human Rights, Attorneys Idris Sheriff, S. C. Lopel Kanneh and Saymah Serenus Cephus.

With the judge acknowledging representation, His Honor, Cllr. Gweneweleh, went on to summarize the testimonies of prosecution witnesses, saying the indictment of September 25, 2007 during the August Term of the Circuit Court has its second hearing as a result of controversial ‘guilty’ verdict derived from the first hearing by the empanelled jury presided over by Judge Charles K. Williams of the Criminal Court “A” during trial of the November 2007 Term of the court.

Having said establishment of sufficiency of evidence by prosecution is cardinal to determination to warrant conviction, Judge and Jury de facto Gweneweleh told the audience, “We should take recourse in to the indictment which says the two defendants on diverse occasions connived, conspired and planned to overthrow the legitimate government of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.”

Evidences that didn’t suggest treason

Judge Gweneweleh said the prosecution produced witnesses that members of the former Armed Forces of Liberia had series of meetings and that they collected from their midst L$50 each to underwrite charges for lawyers for their disbandment, but added that these meetings in the opinion of the court did not constitute any element of treason.

The trial judge and jury de facto further noted that prosecution also produced that Retired General Julu called a meeting of members of the disgruntled and disbanded Armed Forces of Liberia, which meeting was not held due to lack of quorum, but added, “This Court says the meeting by the defunct AFL did not constitute any element of treason.”

According to the judge and jury de facto, “ Due to the failure by the prosecution to disclose the nature of the meeting that was not held, it can not be held that it was intended to overthrow.”

He said in a strong worded statement in his ruling, “The prosecution failed during the trial to establish before this court what constitutes any element of treason that defendants attempted or committed’” saying, “Chapter 11.1 of the Penal Code “d' and “e” which the prosecution asked the court to take judicial notice of provides that any attempt of subversion, rebellion, insurrection and /or mutiny are some elements of treason which, of course the prosecution did not establish in their evidence before this court.”

Judge Gweneweleh narrated that prosecution alleged that Jacob Garan visited General Julu, introduced him to Col. Dorbor and Ephraim Gaye, but the judge went on to dismiss the testimony when he noted that there was no corroboration except that Jacob Garan hosted them [Dorbor and Gaye] in Ganta and gave them US$50, adding, “Prosecution did not establish whether the US$50 was intended for coup plot.”

“It is unthinkable, unbelievable and inhumanly impossible for Col. Dorbor to visit Col. Julu on February 1, 2007 and at the same time for this same Dorbor to be in Ivory Coast negotiating for arms. This creates a serious doubt in the minds of the court,” indicated the Judge who was pointing his finger at the audience – moving from side to side as his black gown flipped behind him

Judge Gweneweleh added, “The prosecution miserably failed to produce the father of Jr. Gaye [the brother of Ephraim Gaye both of whom testified in the case] to corroborate testimonies of Jr. Gaye that the accused had planned to overthrow on Inauguration Day.” Besides that, the Judge said prosecution also failed to produce before the court copies of the video recordings that

would validate claims that monitory equipment were set up when Dorbor visited Ivorian General Delaford, the alleged armed dealer to whom Julu reportedly sent co-defendant Dorbor to negotiate for arms, ammunition and 3000 pieces of military uniforms.

He ruled that the Criminal Court during the trial granted prosecution’s motion for deposition of the Ivorian General Delaford and the other general who reportedly arrested Col Dorbor in the Ivory Coast, General Papie Kasaraki. “These two prosecution witnesses were never seen from the Ivory Coast, the deposition was never produced. This failure to produce these material evidences/witnesses also created serious doubts in the minds of the court,” the Judge noted. He said the testimonies of the Ivory security personnel were to serve as material evidences to corroborate the prosecution’s allegations against the accused, but added that instead of the deposition or the witnesses, what was purported to be an “investigative report” was produced, adding that this purported investigated report stands to be credible only when a deposition is

taken, since in fact it was never cross-examined by the defense lawyers.

“Section 2.1 of the Criminal Procedure Law says where there is a reasonable doubt in a criminal trial,” the judge said, “it must operate in favor of the defendants.” Wherefore and in view of the fore going [both prosecution and defense lawyers stood to receive the final judgment but the

judge left saying he was going to urinate and pandemonium of suspicion nearly broke out in the court when he suddenly returned], it is the final judgment of the court that Retired General Charles Julu and Retired Col. Andrew Dorbor are ‘NOT GUILTY” – enthusiasms apparently from well-wishers, relatives and families overwhelmed the jammed parked courtroom momentarily rendering it uncontrollable with the judge and sheriff banging gavels to bring the court under control.

It was thereafter the judge, amidst snapping of cameras, instructed the Sheriff of the court to prepare the release of the accused “without a day going by and so ordered.” From there the celebration and jubilation took over the Temple of Justice Compound.

Final Arguments before the ruling

The arguments were the final legal confrontation between the prosecution and the defense, and two hours were allotted for each side by Judge Gbeneweleh

The State prosecutor, Montserrado County Attorney Samuel Jacobs said the prosecution has submitted sufficient and corroborated evidence before the court that should warrant the conviction of accused. Mr. Jacobs said the rule on the “sufficiency of evidence” and “corroboration” as provided for under the laws should be the guiding principle of the trial judge, saying that all of their witnesses’ testimonies pointed to the fact the defendants did plot to overthrow the government of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. According to him, the state has established a “prima faci case.” Attorney Jacobs maintained that the government has intelligence all within the sub region, noting that government’s intelligence had captured the accused when they were crafting their “diabolical” plan. “But let me tell you, you will never be able to over throw this government; our intelligence is strong all over the sub region,” he said.

Atty. Jacobs also said the Judge should take cognizant of “historical facts” of the conduct of the defendants, saying that retired General Julu and Col. Dorbor were not on trial base on their past treasonable activities.

Defense Final Arguments

Presenting its argument, the lead defense counsel, Cllr. T. Dempster Browne said the court should acquit Julu and Dorbor. Cllr. Brown said the state hasn’t proven its allegation against the accused.

The defense lawyers through Cllr. Browne pointed out that of the eight that were accused earlier and arrested only Julu and Dorbor were being prosecuted. “Your honor, no two can plan to unseat a government,” Cllr. Brown said.

The defense lawyer furthered that the testimonies of the prosecution are at variance regarding where and when Dorbor was arrested, and reminded the judge that where doubt exists in such a case it should operate in favor of the defendants.

Browne said one of prosecution’s witnesses said he was bribed US$1500 to lie on General Julu, noting that today Dorbor is being prosecuted because he equally refused to lie on General Julu. Besides, the defense said video tapes that were allegedly alluded to during hearings have never been produced in court, saying that if prosecution witnesses testified that they have video taped meetings of the plot, why didn’t they produced them in open court for public view, Cllr. Brown asked.

The lead defense who was assisted by Cllr. Morris Kaba in presentation of the defendants argument added that an investigative report from which prosecution said came from the Ivorian Government was notarized before it was prepared, questioning the possibility of how a document that was not formed would be notarized.

Background of the case

Julu and Dorbor were arrested along with others some time last years on allegation of plotting to subvert the government. At the time, it was said that Dorbor was sent to Ivory Coast to procure armed for their alleged subversive operation, but was nabbed by Ivory security forces who contacted the Liberian Government. Dorbor was flown to Liberia, investigated and prosecuted along with Julu who was reported to have been the mastermind of the plot. The first trial was nullified based on suspicion of bribery solicitation by the empanelled jury and a retrial ordered by the presiding judge at the time, Judge Charles Williams.