Liberia: July 26 ‘Violent Assault’ Suspects Released on Non-cash Bail

"You will be proceeding wrongly by presiding over crimes that do not fall under your court jurisdiction. This court cannot determine crimes that are legally meant for the circuit court, Criminal Courts A or B," said  Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh, while pleading with the Monrovia City Court to reject the defendants' bail application was approved.

The Monrovia City Court has released on a non-cash bail several members of the CDC-COP who were detained in connection to the July 26 violent protest that left students of the Student Unification Party (SUP) injury including one that was badly beaten and tortured and is now fighting for his life.

The human surety bond — granted by Magistrate Jomah Jallah yesterday — comes a few hours after the accused had been charged with crimes including the criminal attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault as contained in the police charge sheet. 

Those released on bail 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 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.

However, the accused crime, while a bailable offense, is above the reach of the court, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Cllr. Wesseh Wesseh, the Assistant Minister for Litigation, at the Ministry argued that the magistrate was exceeding his constitutional authority and that his action could jeopardize the case on grounds that the bond provides no guarantee “that the accused are not flight risks.”

“You will be proceeding wrongly by presiding over crimes that do not fall under your court jurisdiction. This court cannot determine crimes that are legally meant for the circuit court, Criminal Courts A or B,” said  Wesseh. “The defendants are flight risks and you cannot release them. If they escape from the country after their release, how do you think we can re-arrest them?”

Wesseh also raised doubt over whether there was a bond presented, for which the court may consider granting the defendant bail.

But Magistrate Jallah, while granting the bail, disagreed with Wesseh’s argument and said that his action conformed with the law — Section 13.5 of the criminal procedure law — which grants him the authority to issue bonds including surety bonds. 

His action halted the incarceration of the accused at the Monrovia Central Prison — angering family members and sympathizers of victimized students who had gone to the court in hopes of seeing the accused jailed. Section 13.5 states that “a magistrate or judge can use his/her discretion to allow for a lawyer or prominent individual in the community to sign for a defendant when the need arises.”

The magistrate's decision however came after hours of closed-door meetings between him, the prosecutors, and the lawyer of the accused, Cllr. Arthur Johnson.   The focus of the meeting was not disclosed to the public. However,  it was at the end of the meeting while in Court when the bond issue was raised by the defendant's lawyer, that  Wesseh openly resisted the issuing of the bond — citing jurisdiction issues.

“Those crimes can only be heard by a higher court, the Criminal Courts A or B, and not the Monrovia City Court. The City Court does not have authority to grant bond to criminal cases involving an attempt to commit murder and aggregated assault on grounds that only circuit court has jurisdiction over the said matter.”

But  Johnson, while supporting Wesseh’s contention, noted that defendants invoked the statute (Chapter 13.5) and constitutional right (Article 20) while making the request for bail.

He also challenged the police charge — calling for preliminary examination — which falls in line with Chapter 12, Section 12.2 of the criminal procedure law, but the magistrate is yet to look into the matter as a hearing of the merit and demerit of the case scheduled for a later date. 

Section 12.2 of the law states that: “A preliminary examination shall be given to a defendant after his first appearance before the magistrate or justice of the peace only if he requests it. If he makes no such request, the magistrate or justice of the peace, after complying with the provision of section 12.1 of this title, shall hold him to answer.”

If such a request is granted, Jallah as mandated by the criminal procedure law would be compelled to hear the evidence within a reasonable time and during this period, none of the defendants will be called upon to plead, according to Section 12.3. 

This section, which is the title examination of the evidence, among other things states that “if from the evidence it appears to the court that there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant has committed it, the court shall forthwith hold him to answer in the Circuit Court; otherwise the court shall discharge him.”

The six defendants were yesterday arraigned before the Monrovia City Court after they were charged by police with committing multiple crimes ranging from criminal attempt to commit murder, aggravated assault, criminal mischief, theft of property, rioting, criminal conspiracy, failure to disperse, and disorderly conduct.

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 was ensured 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 strip naked,” the police said. 

“That victim Christopher Water Susulu 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 houses zincs.”

Meanwhile, the police report validates earlier media reports, including that of the Daily Observer, that Sivili was one of the unfortunate protesters who were unable to escape the brutality of the COP-CDC and when apprehended — was pummeled with severe punches and slaps, as well as stripped nude while blood poured from his face.

 Sivili, a student of the University of Liberia had joined his colleagues from the SUP to protest alleged “bad governance” and its vices under the administration of President George Weah in front of the US Embassy in Monrovia before the unfortunate incident by CDC-COP happened. However,  the protest ground could later turn chaotic as a result of the CDC-COP, counter-protest against the victim and his group — parading with a banner depicting a portrait of Weah and singing the slogan, “Weah is Fixing the State”.