Independent Human Rights Investigators (IHRI), a local based rights group, and the Liberia Independent Advocates for Human Rights (LIAHR) yesterday held a press conference to draw the attention of the government of Liberia (GOL), through the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), to what they referred to as the “culture of suspicious deaths while in the custody of the Liberia National Police (LNP).” These occurrences, the rights groups said, have raised concerns.
The IHRI and LIAHR are both raising “serious concerns” about the questionable suicide of Victoria Zayzay, a resident of Virginia, at the Zone 6, Depot 1 police station on Hotel Africa Road on October 21.
“The IHRI and LIAHR are gravely concerned about the undue delay, nearing almost three weeks, by the GOL to establish the cause of death in the case of Victoria Zayzay, who the police claim committed suicide,” IHRI national director, Adama K. Dempster told reporters.
“Such a claim by the LNP is troubling because our ongoing investigation of the matter makes it very difficult to believe, considering the size and height of the detention cell in which Victoria was held.”
The rights groups said they a similar case of suspicious death occurred on November 11, 2014 at the New Kru Town police depot, with the LNP claiming that the deceased hanged himself with his T-shirt after being charged with “persistent non-support” by the LNP.
Announcing their doubts ahead of the government’s pronouncement on the cause of death of the Victoria Zayzay, the groups said that because of “the dimensions of the holding cell at the depot, which is about five feet tall, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe that a person of similar height could have committed suicide by hanging on the gate, as claimed by the LNP.”
“Electricity supply at the depot in question runs the whole night, so how can we believe that under such bright lights, a young girl like Zayzay could hang herself in clear view,” Dempster said at yesterday’s conference.
“As we speak, our previous call to GOL to conduct a clinical and forensic examination to determine the cause of death has not been fruitful. We wish to categorically term the action by government in paying a deaf ear to our call as a deliberate lack of interest in the case of an individual who died under mysterious circumstances in a depot manned by personnel of the LNP,” Dempster said.
The rights groups called on authorities at the Ministry of Justice to proceed without delay, using clinical and forensic means, to determine the cause of the death of Victoria Zayzay.
The groups said that they believe an investigation will prevent the culture of suspicious deaths while in LNP custody, adding, “(such deaths) will be prevented or addressed swiftly whenever they are reported.”
On October 21, Victoria Zayzay, 20, reportedly hanged herself while in detention at Zone 6, Depot 1 police station in Virginia, outside Monrovia. She is mourned by her two year old daughter, Hawa, and a host of relatives, including her parents. Police confirmed to the Daily Observer that she was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby community clinic after the LNP detained her for “disorderly conduct.”
Family members said the late Zayzay was detained when she and another lady reportedly fought over spilt milk candy valued at L$1,500. According to the commander at the depot, it was decided that Zayzay should spend the night in police custody to “teach her a lesson.”
Victoria’s mother said she pleaded with police to let her take her daughter home and return with her the following morning, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, the parents of the deceased said they don’t believe that she hanged herself because she did not carry a lappa into the cell as claimed by the LNP, adding that “she also had people to take care of her therefore, nothing could have led her to hang herself.”