— SDA Church adds voice to have their worship day protest-free
By Robin Dopoe and Titus Barbu
The leadership of the Council of Patriots (CoP) has rejected the January 4 date proffered by the diplomatic missions accredited near Monrovia for its protest, but insisting on January 6, 2020, as a feasible day they can have their protest.
Earlier, the foreign diplomats and the government had agreed on Sunday, January 5 which, but the CoP again rejected that date, saying that Sunday is a day many of the CoP’s Christian supporters go to church to worship God. The CoP in a statement also said it was also not accepting Friday because it is also a day that its Muslim supporters worship.
The COP, after the government and the resident diplomats had suggested January 4 in place of the previous schedules, rejected the proposed date in a press conference on Thursday, January 2, saying they will carry on their protest on Monday, January 6.
“The COP will like to state here categorically that if we were to agree on the desired date of government, the COP will be setting a bad precedent,” the group’s chairman Henry Costa said. “It will mean that in the future and going forward, anytime any citizens wish or desire to protest, they will have to wait for the consent of the government, will have to wait for the government to dictate to them when they can assemble and that will undermine our constitution. Therefore, the COP has decided to stick to the alternative date that was pronounced on December 30, which is January 6, the date that we decided to peacefully assemble.”
Costa added that the government does not determine when people protest and it does not have a choice when it comes to providing security for its citizens to protest; rather, it’s the fiduciary and constitutional responsibilities of the state.
“We are afraid that our country is slipping into abysmal [state] of ruthlessness, lawlessness, and disregard of the Constitution. The COP does not want to be an active participant in the violation and abuse of our Constitution. We are giving in too much and being given nothing. Therefore, we maintain and respectfully insist on our international partners that we do not, and will not assemble on January 4. When the CDC (ruling party) was in opposition, they did not write the government to request to assemble but we are better than that. However, we will not allow ourselves to be subservient to the whims and caprices of the powers that be,” Costa said.
According to Costa, the CoP has been cooperative and respectful of the government and the international partners, and it is unfair for the international community to be working with the government to decide when citizens should assemble to express themselves.
“We are giving in too much, the government asked that we do not protest on December 30th, the international community intervened and we gave in. We have exercised the highest level of reasoning, we have been cooperative, we have been respectful to our international partners and we think it unfair to us and beyond that, the government has to decide on what date the citizens have to express themselves,” he asserted.
In a joint statement on January 1, the ambassadors of the United States, the European Union, ECOWAS and the UN Resident Coordinator in Liberia had said that January 5 and 6 were problematic for holding a peaceful assembly.
“To accommodate the desire of the people for immediate redress, this leaves Saturday 4th of January 2020 as the best viable option, and maybe retained as such and that in line with the experience of the peaceful assembly that was held on June 7, 2019, at the Capitol Hill, the 4th January 2020 peaceful assembly would also be approved to be held in the same venue,” the statement noted.
“In this context and in the interest of general public order and safety, we respectfully call on the Government to provide appropriate security protocol guidelines and measures for the event as was done for June 7, 2019,” the ambassadors’ statement added.
However, as the COP was poised to begin the street protest, this same group of ambassadors, issued a joint statement, expressing their concurrence with the suggestion by the Government of Liberia that the December 30, 2019 protest be rescheduled to a later date.
The ambassadors at that time said: “We strongly encourage the Council of Patriots to shift their demonstration to this Sunday, January 5, and various counter-protestors to shift their demonstrations to Sunday, January 12, at the large venues offered by the government, in order to ensure that the rights of all Liberia’s citizens are equally respected. We, your partners, strongly endorse this plan and look forward to those successful and peaceful gatherings, supported and protected by your government.”
In an earlier response to the international partners’ proposal, the group leader, Henry Costa, said, “We do not object to intervention or intrusion, as much as we feel they are getting too much involved in our domestic affairs — that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is the intrusion of our foreign partners that makes us obliged,” adding, “I want to make it clear; we do not reject their intervention or intrusion – as much as we feel they are getting too much involved in our domestic affairs.”
This latest stalemate between the government and the CoP causes many to wonder whether or not the government will also agree with the CoP’s newly suggested date, especially since the Ministry of Justice had said earlier that protesting on a working day is out of the question.
Meanwhile, Costa said if the government is able to provide security for their peaceful gathering on Saturday, January 4, 2020, it clearly suggests that they are able to provide citizens security on January 6, 2020 as well, stressing that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will never be used as protest days by the group.
“It is undemocratic and unconstitutional for the government to dictate to its citizens when to express themselves when they have the right to assemble at all times and the government has the responsibility to provide them security at all times. I want to reiterate that January 6 is our protest date and the time we will come out in our numbers to petition the government,” Costa said.
Before the CoP’s rejection of the ambassadors’ proposed Saturday date, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Liberia has requested that the date be changed since it falls on their worship day.
“The Council of Patriots rejected Sunday, January 5, 2020, and proposed January 6, 2020, as the new date for the postponed protest on religious ground,” said Gemane G. Getteh, Director of Communications, Public Relations and Religious Liberty of the SDA Church. “They also indicated that, for a similar reason, they will never again protest on Friday. While commending their respect for the religious liberty of Liberians who worship on Sunday and Friday, we call upon them and the Government of Liberia to also organize and respect the religious liberty of thousands of Liberians who worship their Creator on Saturday.”