Drama unfolded at the premises of the Temple of Justice Wednesday, July 9, when a group of armed officers of the Police Support Unit (PSU) stormed the courtyard and re-arrested 41 persons, minutes after they had been set free by the Civil Law Court.
The detainees that included two females, were arrested on Thursday, July 3, in Nimba County, for allegedly being part of a violent demonstration that led to the ransacking of millions of United States Dollars of properties belonging to ArcelorMittal, an iron ore company operating in the county.
It all started after Judge Emery Paye granted a “Writ of Habeas Corpus” asked for by lawyers representing the detainees, contending that they had been in police custody over 48 hours and had not been charged and forwarded to court for prosecution.
Habeas Corpus directs the custodian of a prisoner to bring that person before a court and explain the reason for his or her confinement.
It is also a judicial remedy aimed at preventing the arbitrary use of executive power to imprison individuals without any just cause.
Against that background, Judge Paye yesterday said that prosecution had complied with the order and brought the detainees under the jurisdiction of the court.
“Since prosecution had admitted that the accused were held beyond the 48 hours as provided under our law, and relying on the Constitution, the defendants are hereby ordered released from further detention without any molestation,” the Civil Law Court Judge noted.
Ruling further, Judge Paye noted that the law provides that anyone that is arrested should be investigated, charged and forwarded to a court of competent jurisdiction for prosecution within the constitutional period of 48 hours.
“In this case prosecution failed to do exactly what the law provides; therefore, the sheriffs are hereby instructed to make sure that the defendants are hereby released,” Judge Paye further instructed.
Immediately, after Judge Paye’s ruling, the Solicitor General of Liberia, Cllr. Betty Lamie Blamo was seen instructing the officers that were already posted on the grounds of the Temple of Justice, not to allow any of the defendants to leave the courtroom.
In that process, she and some of the officers rushed into the courtroom and began to issue a writ of arrest believed to have come from the Sanniquelle Magisterial Court in Nimba, where the riot was allegedly done.
She even prevented the court’s sheriff from implementing the Court’s instruction to release the accused people.
They were then placed in a bus parked at the Temple of Justice and remanded at the Monrovia Central Prison to await prosecution.
In that writ, prosecution charged them with the commission of the crimes; armed robbery, kidnapping, theft of property and rioting.
Besides armed robbery, the other crimes are bailable under the new criminal law.
Before, the ruling, prosecution in their argument admitted holding the defendants over the constitutional period of 48 hours without being charge.
They further argued that the delay was not deliberate; instead it was due to family members’ interruption of their investigation process.
However, defense lawyers in counter argument termed prosecution’s action as “a declaration of war on the people of Nimba County.”
They alleged that none of the defendants were part of the violent demonstration that led to the destruction of the company’s properties.
“None of the defendants were involved in the looting of the ArcelorMittal’s facilities. It was the officers of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and the company’s security that looted the properties,” Cllr. Yarmie Quiqui Gbeisay further alleged.
It may be recalled that on Thursday, 3rd July 2014, a youth group identified as “Tokadeh Progressive Youth for Peace and Development began what they claimed as a peaceful demonstration in the concession town of Zolowee along the Sanniquellie-Yekepa highway, at the junction of the road leading to Mount Tokadeh.
The aggrieved youth spokesperson Sayetee Zowehyee told this newspaper via mobile phone on the day of the standoff that their action came due to what he called “the failure of ArcelorMittal” to adhere to their plights and demands.
He said prior to their demonstration they informed the County Attorney, LNP and UNMIL that the youth intended to carry on a peaceful march on 3rd June 2014 so as to claim the Arcelor Mittal’s attention over petitions addressed to the company long time ago concerning the development of the areas.
While they were carrying on the peaceful march at the junction leading to Mount Tokadeh, the Emergency Response Unit/ERU came in and told them that they were there to provide protection based on their request to the LNP.
Superintendent Zuagele has also confirmed the arrest of five persons in connection to the violence over the weekend and sent them to Monrovia while their leaders, Sayetee and others, remain at large.
He also confirmed that some members of the group, “Concerned Nimbaians for Resigning and Renegotiating of the MDA”, are undergoing interrogation at the police station in Sanniquellie into their involvement into the violence.
Earlier, one of the detainees, Ta Kruah, told this newspaper via mobile that they were asked by the Superintendent for a meeting early Sunday, 6th July 2014 but were immediately summoned by Police Chief of Operations, Abraham Kromah, for questioning and they are still being held with no charge(s).
Meanwhile, an Executive Mansion Release said the full extent of the damage, which is still being assessed, includes destruction to private properties, as well as injuries to six police officers and the destruction of public roads and bridges.
Information Minister Lewis Brown said “There is no tolerance in this society for those who act outside the law by expressing grievances through violence, destroying properties, assaulting law enforcement officers, and violating the rights of others.”
He added, “All such individuals will face the full weight of the law.”
The Government of Liberia has, meanwhile, assured the management of Arcelor Mittal and all private and foreign investors that no action will be spared to protect lives and properties as well as the general wellbeing of their staffs and employees.