Lawyer Says Photographing Dep. Minister at Bar Didn’t Violate His Privacy

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Videos shared on social media unveiled a scuffle of words that ensued between Bomi’s first district representative, Edwin Snowe, and Eugene Fahngon, the deputy information minister for public affairs.

The videos show the two officials in a heated argument on Friday evening at the Zone Three police depot in Congo Town. Fahngon, who shared the videos, accused Snowe of attempting to force police officers to release a man Fahngon had accused of taking his photograph without his permission. Fahngon said he had been dancing at a bar along the Samuel K. Doe Boulevard when the incident took place.

In the video, police officers were also heard saying they managed to get the accused back into the cells. An officer who claims to be the depot’s deputy commander complained that his uniform was ripped while trying to force the man back into the cells.

However, while the lawmaker’s alleged attempt to obstruct justice could be an offense under the law, the minister’s claim his right to privacy being violated is not justifiable, according to a lawyer who regularly trains media personnel.

Lamii Kpargoi told The Bush Chicken that it is not an offense to photograph a public official once it is done in a public space.

“You don’t expect privacy when you’re in a public space. If you are a public official, anybody can take your picture,” Kpargoi said. “There is nothing wrong with that.”

He added that unless there was a restriction notice issued by the bar’s operators against taking photographs, an entertainment center is a practical definition of a public place.

The Penal Code outlines a violation of privacy as trespassing on a property to eavesdrop or to conduct surveillance of a private place. The law also notes that it is a first-degree misdemeanor for individuals to photograph or record “in any private place without the consent of the person or persons entitled to privacy there.”

A private place is defined as a place where a person may reasonably expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance. The law does not make a distinction for whether that person has to be a journalist – in essence, anyone could have legally taken Fahngon’s photo and be protected by the law.

When contacted, officers at the Zone Three Depot referred The Bush Chicken to police spokesman Moses Carter. However, Carter said he would not comment until the police made an official statement. It is unclear why police officers arrested the photographer for an act that is not illegal.

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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