By Gerald Koinyeneh, with New Narratives
MONROVIA – A witness has told the Finnish court conducting the trial of Gibril Massaquoi that the former rebel commander tortured him while he was imprisoned in 2002.
“They tortured me, [tied] me until the rope entered my flesh and electrocuted my penis,” the victim identified as “GJRP 1” told the court on Wednesday as he showed the scars on his elbow. “If I hadn’t taken treatment in the United States, I would have been impotent.”
He said Massaquoi and men loyal to former President Charles Taylor had accused him and other people of planning a coup d’état to overthrow the Taylor regime.
The witness said unknown men had earlier arrested him on June 24, 2002 near his office on Benson Street while walking on the sidewalk with his one-and-the-half-year-old son. He said they took him to Taylor’s residence in Cogon Town, leaving the toddler alone on the street.
There, the witness said he met Taylor and his top officials, including the head of the Special Security Guard Service (SSS) now Executive Protection Service. He added that Taylor accused him of writing inciting articles in his newspaper and planning an insurrection. “He asked me to tell him the truth and that only the truth will set me free,” the witness said.
The witness further told the court that Taylor grew impatient after he maintained that he was innocent and ordered Yeaten to break him. At Yeaten’s order, Taylor’s forces took him to several police stations in Monrovia, continued to torture him and handed him over to Massaquoi in Klay, he told the court.
He said Massaquoi allegedly tied his hands, kicked and demanded him to say the truth. Thereafter, a female came into the room and electrocuted him as Massaquoi watched, he said. Most of his jailers and torturers, he said, are still alive and currently working in the current government. He opted not to openly disclose their names in court for fear of retribution.
“I believe Massaquoi was present because it was in the same room the woman electrocuted me,” he said.
He said while in Klay, he and other men the government accused of plotting against it were placed in an underground cell filled with water, and were tortured every day.
A month later, he told the court he was flown to Foya, brought back to Monrovia and then released following pressure from the United States embassy and rights groups.
Massaquoi’s trial is held in the District Court of Tampere in Finland for war crimes he allegedly committed during Liberia’s second civil war between 1999 and 2003. He denies the charges. His trial was moved to Liberia on February 23 at a secret location to allow judges to hear directly from more than 80 Liberian witnesses. He faces a life sentence, 15 years under Finnish legal system if found guilty.
Massaquoi’s lead lawyer, Kaarle Gummerus, tried to find inconsistencies in the witness’ testimony over the dates of his alleged torture and imprisonment.
The witness had said in a previous statement to Civitas Maxima, an organization that prosecutes alleged perpetrators of war crimes, he spent two months after his torture before taken to Foya, but now he told the court one month. The defense lawyer also raised concern about the witness’ omission of the female who allegedly electrocuted him in his initial story.
The witness, however, responded that he was not sure of the date during his written testimony to Civitas, but found the actual date of his ordeal after he talked with some of his former prison mates.
On the female issue, the witness said he felt uncomfortable to mention that female who electrocuted him in his statement to Civitas, but decided to mention it because he was appearing before a court.
Wednesday’s proceedings ended the hearings in Liberia. The court heard 56 witnesses since it began work in Liberia. It will move to neighboring Sierra Leone at the end of this week to hear other witnesses.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.