MIA Rescues 11 men Detained by Traditional Leaders in Bong County

Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has secured the release of eleven men who were held in the custody by traditional leaders in Gbartala, Bong County.

The eleven men who had traveled from Monrovia to Gbartala on a preaching expedition are members of a religious group called Saint Assembly.  The men were released Thursday, October 7, 2021, to a team dispatched by Acting Internal Affairs Minister, Momolu S. Johnson, following reports that members of Saint Assembly were allegedly conscripted by force into traditional society in the area.

A release from the Internal Affairs Ministry said the high-power team fostering the release of the men was headed by Assistant Minister for Culture and Customs, Joseph B. Jangar, and Chief Zanzan Karwor, Chairman of the National Council of Chiefs.

According to Assistant Minister Jangar, residents and traditional leaders expressed anger that during their preaching, the men used demeaning words against their culture and tradition of the community as being demonic, which constitutes a violation of the cultural norms of the community. The Assistant Minister said he and Chief Zanzan were informed by the traditional people that the men used the preaching to ridicule their culture.

Meanwhile, the traditional leaders denied ever taking the men into the Poro Bush, terming it as total falsehood. They claimed that the men were only detained in a nearby town with the plan of turning them over to the local authority for violating their Culture. The chiefs said the detention was a safety measure as some angry community members were becoming increasingly irritated by the negative message spread by the men against their culture.

 “The men in question were never taken to the bush; we met them detained in the town,” said Jangar.

Meanwhile, the eleven men and their families have been turned over to the District Commissioner for onward turnover to Bong County Superintendent Esther Walker pending their transportation back to Monrovia. 

The Acting Minister has requested the team to conduct a further investigation concerning the claims and counter-claims. For the second day running, the compound of the Ministry has been a scene of Saint Assembly members who are staging a sit-in action in apparent demand for the release of their members who they alleged were forcibly initiated into the Poro society in Gbartala, Bong County.

Early Wednesday morning, October 6, 2021, employees of the Ministry were greeted by a group comprising dozens of citizens occupying the entrance of the Ministry's compound and other areas. The group occupying the compound refused to speak to any authority or accept any meeting request, but continued to sing, preach and chant.  

All efforts by authorities of the Ministry and the Liberia Council of Churches to convince the group's leaders for a meeting in order to ascertain the facts proved fruitless. 

National Peace Ambassador, Rev. William R. Tolbert, Liberia Council of Churches represented by Dr. George Zorbah, Chief Zanzan Karwor, and head of the Liberia Peacebuilding Office, Edward Mulbah and other senior staff of the Ministry, exerted every effort to call a meeting but were all resisted.  Officers of the Liberia National Police were immediately called to assist in maintaining calm at the Ministry complex. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry has warned local and traditional leaders against taking the law into their own hands and cautioned them of grave consequences if they fail to abide by the law of the land.