Liberia: ‘Give Us Time to Look for Video Evidence against July 26 Violent Assault Suspects’

 Assistant Minister for Litigation, Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh

Assistant Minister for Litigation, Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh, tells Magistrate Jallah, a request that was flatly rejected by the court

The Monrovia City Court on Thursday, August 11, was compelled to postpone the trial of seven top-level members of the CDC-COP, a hardline auxiliary of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) accused of organizing a counter-protest that led to a violent assault against Christopher Walter Sisulu Sivili, a student of the Student Unification Party (SUP), who was beaten and is currently under medical treatment, fighting for survival.

Magistrate Jomah Jallah took the decision after he rejected a request by the lead prosecutor and Assistant Minister for Litigation of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh, for the court to give the government an unspecified time to look for their main evidence, the audio and video recordings of the alleged violent assault against Sivili that went viral and, in the possession of the Liberia National Police (LNP).

However, Magistrate Jallah rescheduled the case for Monday, August 15.

Giving reasons for his decision, Magistrate Jallah said, the Supreme Court, in one of its opinions, advised judges and magistrates not to suspend or postpone a case only because of an unavailability of evidence, which Wesseh was demanding to happen.

“The motion for postponement (continuance) as requested by the prosecution is hereby denied, and the matter is scheduled for Monday, August 15,” Jallah ruled.

Meanwhile, Magistrate Jallah publicly admitted, on yesterday, that he has no intent to hear two of the criminal charges, to include criminal attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault, as Wesseh has repeatedly argued, when the violent assault suspects were first arraigned before the court, on August 4.

“I am going to hear only the other criminal charges, and not the one [involving] criminal attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault. I will send them to the circuit court that has jurisdiction to hear,” Magistrate Jallah ruled, accepting Wesseh’s early contention.

Interestingly, It was based on that video that President George Weah mandated the Justice Ministry to conduct an investigation into the matter and to bring those responsible to justice for their violent actions, which led to the police to charge the CDC-COP top-level members with multiple criminal crimes to include; criminal attempt to commit murder, aggravated assault, criminal mischief, theft of property, rioting, criminal conspiracy, failure to disperse, and disorderly conduct.

Initially, when Cllr. Wesseh took the stand, everybody thought that he was prepared to proceed with the case, surprisingly, Wesseh asked the court for an indefinite postponement of the matter, because the police did not include the video and audio recordings of the assault against student Sivili by the CDC-COP officials.

“Your Honor, while carefully reviewing the case file, we noticed that the police left-out the video and audio recordings in the court document, and we are relying on those instruments as our key evidence to prosecute the case,” Cllr. Wesseh said, attempting to blame his ill-preparedness on the Liberia National Police. Therefore, Wesseh added, “We want a continuance (postponement) of the case, till we can get those evidences from the police.”

Disappointed by Wesseh’s behavior yesterday, which led to the postponement of the case, he was the one who, on August 4, argued against Magistrate Jallah’s decision to hear and release the suspected criminals on a non-cash bond.

Moreover, Wesseh further argued that Magistrate Jallah does not have jurisdiction to hear two of the criminal charges that include criminal attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault which, according to him, was in the jurisdiction of the circuit court, which is higher than the magisterial court.

Unfortunately, yesterday, for Wesseh to say that the hearing must be postponed because the police did not provide him the video and audio recordings evidence, did not go down well with family members of those injured students, who are in dire need of justice, and is a troubling sign to the case.

Those suspects on trial for the violent assault are Kendrick S. Pelenah, 30; Joshua S. Karr, 28; Pukar Roberts, 36; Ben B. Togbah, 25; Foday N. Massaquoi, 23; Aaron K. Chea, 26; and Abdurahman Barrie — all of whom are top-level members of the CDC-COP, a hardline auxiliary of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change. 

They are being prosecuted for organizing a counter-protest that led to a “violent assault” against Christopher Walter Sisulu Sivili, a student protester who was beaten and tortured by members of the Coalition for Democratic Change-Council of Patriots (CDC-COP). The assault was live streamed on Facebook.

The group’s action, according to the police, violates Chapter 14 Section 14.20, Chapter 15, Subchapter "A" Section 15.5, Chapter 10.4, Chapter 15, Subchapter D Section 15.51, Chapter 17, Section 17.1 and Chapter 17, and  Section 17.3 of the penal law, according to the police.

The police charge sheet stated that on July 26, during the early morning hours, the University of Liberia-based student group — the Student Unification Party (SUP) — gathered up Benson Street in front of the U.S. Embassy to carry out a protest under the banner, “Fix the Country”, and to subsequently present their petition to the U.S. Embassy.

While the SUP members were gathered, another group, CDC-COP, emerged in the same vicinity to protest under the banner “Thanking the President for the level of work in the Country.”

On its charge sheet, the Police noted that the CDC-COP Members intentionally went to disturb the peaceful gathering of members of SUP, at a place they had no right being at the time. The police observed that CDC-COP chased members of SUP from the scene and later transferred their aggression to community members and destroyed properties.

“Thereafter, an altercation ensued between the two groups, thereby resulting in heavy stone throwing while a student of SUP was captured and tortured violently taken from in the community up Benson Street to the main road, while being stripped naked,” the police said. 

“That victim Christopher Water Sisulu Sivili, having recognized that the situation had escalated, ran from the main road into the community for safety, but was chased and apprehended, beaten, stripped naked, publicly, and violently taken back to the main road, while blood was seen oozing from his face and mouth.”

“However, through the intervention of a motorbike rider, the victim was able to escape with blood oozing from his mouth and still being beaten by his aggressors. And that the appearance of the CDC-COP on the University of Liberia campus, where SUP is based on July 26 validates, they were well prepared for violent protest. Also, the fact that the membership of the CDC-COP organized a camp at their Chairman's, planning for the (counter) protest, indicates that their actions were intentional.”

The police charge sheet also indicated that during said violence, supporters of the so-called CDC-COP chased the SUP supporters in the community, and after they could not get them, they later transferred their aggression to the community dwellers, “thus entering several residential homes and damaged their properties, took their phones and cash and threw rocks on their zincs houses.”