Butaw citizens in Sinoe County and in Monrovia have warned the Liberian government against arbitrary arrests of its citizens, especially those who have fled into the bushes for fear of being imprisoned.
The citizens said during a meeting here in Butaw that the prolonged hiding of their kinsmen in the bushes, villages or forest posed a health hazard and they would never “forget or forgive” the government if anyone loses his or her life for fear of being ‘brutally beaten’ or arrested over the May 26 mob violence at the Butaw headquarters of Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL).
The Butaw citizens also urged the government to unconditionally free their children from prison, arguing that in concession areas, disagreements and protests would always arise.
The citizens issued the stern warning on Saturday during a meeting organized by scores of Butaw citizens from Monrovia, headed by activists A. Saydee Monboe, II and K. Hasting Panyonnoh, I.
The two men said their presence in the county is to intensify their campaign with what they described as the “undying commitment to fight for justice” which includes warning the government and assuring their kinsmen of their readiness to galvanize national and international support to free their children from detention.
Over 20 youth, mainly males, are being held at the prison compound located at Johnston Street, Greenville, since their arrest on May 26.
They have been charged with terroristic threat, armed robbery and theft of property and breach of the peace.
On Friday, the preliminary hearing at the Magisterial Court to substantiate the charges failed to take place due to the ill health of the judge.
Mr. Monboe, who is also the executive director of the Center for Trauma Counseling and Conflict Resolution, (CTCCR) said they have galvanized pro bono lawyers amid reports that the Sinoe County Public Defender, Atty. Wilfred Nyanti is unable to defend over 20 persons.
Monboe said Cllr. Lencer Matthews and Atty. Alfred Brownell are helping to coordinate lawyers for the case for which the date of hearing has not yet been decided.
According to Mr. Monboe, today there will be another meeting at Butaw Compound during which citizens will be briefed about their discussions with the County Legislative Caucus, the Green Advocates and other civil society organizations to galvanize legal support for the release of the youths.
“We will mobilize our colleagues and our people to contest the judicial system against the arrest of our people. Our international partners will also help us in this legal battle,” Mr. Monboe stated.
According to him, the people of Butaw are disappointed over the 65-year concession agreement that was signed by the government and the GVL without direct benefits to the people of Butaw.
He said the upgrading of the schools, the lack of a hospital, roads and water in Butaw are issues that still need to be addressed and which, he said, are grounds for more protests.
He, however, said the issue of the GVL agreement would be adequately tackled after the legal battle over the release of the youth in detention and the return of those in the bushes.
Mr. Monboe termed the value of the GVL riot damages, which was put at over US$200K, as unrealistic and demeaning.
For his part, Mr. Panyonnoh said although they are against mob violence, the arrests should not be political and the cause of the mob justice should be dealt with to avoid a recurrence.
He said the release of the youth and a guarantee that those hiding in the bushes will not be arrested should claim government’s attention.
According to the GVL’s report of last month’s riots, two employees were badly injured and were hospitalized in Monrovia while several others were treated locally. Employees’ houses were broken into, vandalized and their private properties stolen. GVL said the company’s rice warehouse was looted and its facility and vehicles were damaged.
Sources in Butaw said the riot against GVL is owing to the unresolved land dispute between the GVL and the Butaw community. The youth and elders claim that their lands are forcibly taken from them by the Liberian government through GVL for a “nickel.”
They argued that the concession agreement between the government and leeward communities should seek their input. They warned of continued unrest if there common ground were not established.