Liberia: President Weah Condemns CDC-COP July 26 ‘Violent Assault’

President George Weah

“... So if you claim to love me or follow my political ideology, you can not do so with violence. Anyone or group that has my image on a banner in support of me and my Government has to be peaceful, respectful, and tolerant," Weah said.

President George Weah has finally condemned the July 26 “violent assault” against Christopher Walter Sisulu Sivili, a student protester who was beaten and tortured by the CDC-COP, a hardline auxiliary of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.

The president's condemnation comes seven days after the incident. He came under fire for not specifically denouncing the violence from the very day it happened. 

Many have viewed the President’s muteness on the incident as a stamp of approval of the perpetrators’ action — an apparent continuation of similar attacks against opposition actors of late and a return of dark days in the country when violence against demonstrators was carried out with impunity.

But in a statement distancing himself from the bloody Independence Day incident, the President denounced the violence. 

Hear him: “So if you claim to love me or follow my political ideology, you can not do so with violence. Anyone or group that has my image on a banner in support of me and my government has to be peaceful, respectful, and tolerant. Today, [I] denounce in the strongest terms, the violence which was perpetrated by some youth in the early hours of July 26, when Liberians at home and abroad were just preparing to celebrate such an important day for the country. Violence is totally unacceptable. " 

“Therefore, I have mandated the Ministry of Justice and the entire national security apparatus to immediately arrest all those involved in the violent incident on July 26, and ensure that they face the full weight of the law,” Weah said. “I have also instructed the Minister of Health to ensure that all those who sustained injuries during the violent attack be given the best medical treatment at the expense of the government. Liberia remains a country of laws. Despite our political differences, we are one nation, one people united under God's command.”

The President's remark, which was pre-recorded, came after several members of the CDC-COP were caught on Facebook Live, beating and torturing Sivili, a student of the University of Liberia who had joined his colleagues from the Student Unification Party (SUP) to protest alleged “bad governance” and its vices under the administration of President George Weah in front of the US Embassy in Monrovia.

Sivili was one of the unfortunate protesters who were unable to escape the brutality of the CDC -COP when they marched in counter-protest against their victim and his group —  parading with a banner depicting a portrait of Weah and singing the slogan, “Weah is Fixing the State”.

And when apprehended, he was pummeled with severe punches and slaps, as well as stripped nude while blood poured from his face.  

This brutal assault, which the CDC-COP on July 27 denied orchestrating despite video footage proving them wrong, was carried out in the sight of some of the ruling party auxiliary members, including Pukar Robert. The CDC-COP denial came a few hours after the Weah administration had early condemned the July 26 violence — 24 hours after it had happened.

But as the earlier statement from the government,  by the Minister of Information Ledgerhood Rennie, rebuking the violence, the message implied that the violence was a brawl between “two rival groups purporting to be some students of the University of Liberia campus-based Students Unification Party (SUP) and the CDC-COP.”

Similarly, the President's ruling party, in a July 27 statement did not just denounce the violence but also 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.”

But the President yesterday, while trying to calm tension, veered away from the passive condemnations from his party and the Minister of information by striking a conciliatory tone, as he questioned the rationale of those who support him but yet engage in violence when he is supposed to be a man of peace.

Violence, Weah said, is totally unacceptable; as such, he had stressed in all his public engagements the need to maintain the hard-earned peace that the country now enjoys.

“This is a cause for which I have lent personal sacrifice — as an ambassador of peace. You cannot support a man of peace by being violent. I also want to stress, as the founding father of the Congress for Democratic Change, now [part of] the Coalition for Democratic Change, that we do not have any CDC-COP within our organization. When you come to join us, you become a CDC partisan of peace, democracy, and development.”

However, Weah’s denial of the CDC-COP’s existence is surprising, given the fact that the group has been known to the party for two years. The CDC-COP joined the ruling party in September 2020 and was welcomed by the party’s chairman, Molubah Morlu. 

Since then, the group, led by its chairman, Ben Belive Togba, has had party support and has returned that favor by actively supporting the President's agenda and replying to his critics.  As a result, the President’s decision to disown the group has been described by his critics as a total smoke screen designed to “portray him as a man of peace, which is not true.”

Meanwhile, the CDC-COP, a few hours after Weah's remarks, released a statement saying they maintain that the unfortunate scene on July 26 at the US Embassy was a calculated plan by “the failed opposition to instigate violence and defame the government.” 

Such a grandstanding expression of no remorse could be seen as an open challenge to the President's rebuke of their assault against Sivili. 

“We also reiterate that CDC-COP is an independent nonviolent civil rights political movement that chose to support the government based on our unwavering love for the country and the magnanimous transformations being implemented by the government; therefore, we take full responsibility for our actions and inactions.” 

This does not excuse the fact that the faces of key CDC-COP members were seen on live video carrying out the vicious attack against Sivili and his colleagues near the US Embassy. Now it remains to be seen whether President Weah will set an example by striking a decisive blow against such unprovoked violence, perpetrated by those claiming to be loyal to him.