Liberia: CDC Auxiliary Brutalizes Anti-Government Protester

--- But it took the Weah administration nearly 24 hours to issue a statement condemning the act, saying the police director has been instructed to thoroughly investigate the issue.

Picture this: an anti-government demonstrator is violently abused and stripped naked and bloodied while the incident is streamed live on Facebook.

This is exactly what happened on July 26, when several members of the pro-government group, the CDC- Council of Patriots, (CDC-COP) were caught on Facebook live, beating and torturing protester Christopher Walter Sisulu Sivili, who was captured across the street from the US Embassy.

Sivili was one of the unfortunate protesters who were unable to escape the brutality of the COP-CDC when they marched in counter-protest against Sivili and his group.  And when apprehended, he was pummeled with severe punches and slaps, as well as stripped nude while blood poured from his face.

Sivili, who onlookers later rescued after being left abandoned by his attackers from CDC- COP had gone to the US Embassy on Benson Street, with several members of the Student Unification Party (from the University of Liberia) to protest alleged “bad governance” and its vices including corruption, poverty, and insecurity under the administration of President George Weah.

But what started as a peaceful assembly soon escalated as that auxiliary of the ruling party — CDC-COP — stormed the SUP protest gathering with their own, parading with a banner depicting a portrait of Weah and singing the slogan, “Weah is Fixing the State.”

After the SUP protestors escaped, the CDC-COP, a hardline supporter group of the President, went in search of them, which resulted in Sivili being apprehended and tortured across the street from the US Embassy. 

Gov’t vehemently condemns

However, it took the Weah administration nearly 24 hours to issue a release condemning the actions of the ruling party’s auxiliary. In a statement signed by the Minister of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Ledgerhood J. Rennie, the government noted that it categorically condemns the street violence that happened on July 26, involving two rival groups purporting to be some students of the University of Liberia campus-based Students Unification Party (SUP) and the CDC-COP.

“The Ministry of Justice has accordingly directed the Inspector General of Police to launch an immediate and full-scale investigation into the incident,” Minister Rennie said in the July 27 statement. “Images of the violence being posted on social media show unwarranted use of force and maltreatment of some participating youths which has no place in our newfound democracy.”

“The Attorney General, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, has accordingly called on the police to ensure that perpetrators are brought to book in keeping with the laws of Liberia. The Government wants to make it clear that while it encourages all citizens to express their views on national issues, their methods must conform to the law.” 

“Articles 13 and 15 of the Liberian Constitution guarantee such rights. The named constitutional provisions however clearly express the safeguarding of public order, public safety as well as rights and freedom of others.”

The Information Ministry however said it did not receive a request from any group to march in the streets of Monrovia on the said date, whether in protest for or against the Liberian Government — and if such a request was made, the government would have acted to ensure public safety and order by scheduling the rival groups at different times.

A formal request for any such action, according to the statement, is a cardinal requirement by law, which can be conveyed through a written petition to the Ministry of Justice for a permit.

“The Liberia National Police Act of 2015 Section III Article 22.86, which also deals with Public Order, mandates any persons wanting to hold such a march or protest to contact the Minister of Justice in keeping with the law. 

The ruling party condemns allegations of violence

The violence against Sivili has also been condemned by the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change although the name of the victim was not directly mentioned. Instead, the party said it is shocked by allegations of violence and expressed its total disapproval.

The ruling party, in a separate statement, described itself as a peaceful, law-abiding, and nonviolent political institution that will continue to maintain a zero-tolerance policy against any form of violence as “it called on police to conduct a holistic investigative process in response to strong allegations that members of the CDC (who are being treated in different hospitals) sustained injuries meted out by anti-government protesters in different locations.”

“Besides, the use of violence as a medium through which political expressions are sought is reprehensible, unjustified, and runs contrary to the ideology and philosophy of the CDC,” the Coalition said in a release. “Henceforth, the CDC condemns in the strongest possible terms these alleged acts of brutality committed by lawless elements and calls on the Liberia National Police to launch a speedy investigation (on all sides) determined to establish the facts and to bring the culprits to justice.”

“Therefore, as we call for the prosecution of all those allegedly involved, the CDC assures the Liberia National Police of its unconditional cooperation, if needed.” 

Similarly, the CDC-COP, copying the ruling party, denied brutalizing anybody, despite video footage that plainly shows the ruling party auxiliary headed by one of its members, Pukar Robert, conducting the savage assault.

The CDC-COP statement was released late in the evening yesterday — 24 hours after the incident and more than 8 hours after the ruling CDC had issued its condemnation of the incident. 

The auxiliary group then blamed the violent assault on the opposition community: “in the strongest term, [we] vehemently condemned the callous and brutal act orchestrated by the compromised and failed opposition against peaceful Liberians that went out to present their petition to the US Embassy on July 26.”

“The CDC-COP mandates those pupils to be grateful to the CDC Weah-led government for the availability of free tuition and the beautification of the buildings at the University of Liberia," the group chair, Ben Believe Togba said in a statement. "Any serious-minded student group will use President Weah's magnanimous initiative to make lessons important and not instigate pandemonium."

“The CDC-COP being Liberia's biggest civil rights political movement believes in the protection of our peace and stability and no reactionary elements will be given absolutely no space to undermine the progress of our cherished democracy.”

Meanwhile, the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) has condemned in the strongest terms, the ill-treatment meted upon the students who peacefully gathered to exercise their civil and democratic rights as enshrined in Articles 15 and 17 of the Liberian Constitution, which call for the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly through responsible manner.

“The Council, therefore, calls on the government through the Liberia National Police (LNP) to launch an investigation and bring those human rights violators to justice. Being a voice of the voiceless, the Council will not sit on the fence to allow the country to be ruined. Liberians cannot afford to see their country plunge into another political brouhaha as a result of injustices upon peaceful citizens.”

Also, the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP) has joined the council to condemn in the strongest terms the violence meted out against the protesting students of the University of Liberia’s Student Unification Party.

The CEMESP noted there can be no justification for anyone to be brutalized by thugs for expressing their views regardless of how their opponents feel.

“The barbarous act of the thugs led by a known partisan of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change must be responded to forcefully by the government if the impression that it was state-sponsored is to be avoided. CEMESP called on the government to immediately arrest each of the thugs shown violently assaulting a protester in the video of the incident and speedily bring them to justice for their crimes, as a way of discouraging any future occurrence of such an act.”

“CEMESP is therefore cautioning the government to espouse a zero tolerance for thuggish jungle justice as an unjustified attack on peaceful protesters could trigger the desire for and perpetration of counteraction by rival groups, which is a recipe for dragging the country into anarchy.”