Three former leaders of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) are appealing to the United States to impose sanctions on the Chair and Commissioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC) in Liberia if the December 2020 midterm senatorial elections are declared to be fraudulent and not conducted in keeping with acceptable international standards.
The former leaders are Isaac D.E. Bantu, who served as president of the PUL during the last period of the brutal Samuel Doe regime to the early period of the Liberian civil war; Emmanuel Abalo, who served during the same period as vice president of the PUL and acting president after Bantu fled the country due to death threats; and Gabriel I.H. Williams, who served as secretary-general and acting PUL president after Abalo also voted with his feet due to growing death threats. Williams was forced to also flee Liberia for his life. During that era, rights activists, journalists, and opposition politicians endured extreme violence and many were killed in the advocacy for free speech and democratic governance.
In a joint statement issued in the United States, the former PUL executives expressed their willingness to support international effort to place sanctions on the Chair, Madam Davidetta Brown Lansanah, and Commissioners of the NEC, if the pending midterm senatorial elections are adjudged to be fraudulent.
The former PUL executives noted disturbing developments unfolding in Liberia, where violence has intensified amid mounting political tension, and that the main opposition bloc, the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), recently alarmed that the NEC is conniving with the government of President George M. Weah to rig the pending senatorial elections. The CPP expressed unsettling concerns that the NEC decided to launch a mobile Voters Registration Update (VRU) exercise without reference to the opposition parties, accusing the Commission of dangerously threading a path of unilateralism in collusion with the ruling party and the government.
We view with consternation the widespread irregularities that marred the recent launch of the mobile VRU exercise, such as the arrest of several individuals who were found with double or multiple voter registration cards, as well as trucking of paid voters from one constituency to register in another by some candidates in the pending elections. Despite these troubling developments, the NEC has remained mute and seemingly unmoved.
The former PUL leaders predict that if the NEC colludes with the government to declare a fraudulent result of the senatorial elections, violence could erupt again in Liberia, as was the case in 1985 when military ruler Samuel Doe rigged the presidential and legislative elections. Hundreds of Liberians were killed in the violence, during which Mr. Bantu, then a BBC correspondent for Liberia, was dragged from his home handcuffed while in his underpants by heavily armed soldiers, his entire house burned to the ground, and he was imprisoned for months for reporting on BBC that the elections were rigged. Among those killed was respected broadcast journalist Charles Gbenyon, who was butchered to death at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia reportedly on the orders of General Doe, because he had interviewed the chair of the elections commission regarding allegations that the elections were fraudulent.
The violence perpetrated by the Doe regime to suppress dissent after stealing the elections set the stage for Liberia’s brutal and destructive civil war that cost the lives of some 250,000 people and left almost the entire country ruined. It is also important to recall what happened recently in Mali, where election fraud, reportedly perpetrated by the government, led to constant mass protests that eventually brought down the government when the military intervened to restore law and order.
The former PUL leaders also seriously condemn the widespread practice of rape in the Liberian society, and they called on the Weah government to institute strong measures to curb this evil. Allegations of rape must be thoroughly investigated within an atmosphere of transparency irrespective of status. These include allegations of rape against outgoing Liberian Ambassador to the United Nations and Foreign Minister-designate, Dee Maxwell Kemayah, as well as Bishop Jermaine Jones, who is accused of sodomizing a child.
We applaud individuals and organizations that are in the vanguard of the anti-rape campaign, defending the most vulnerable members of the Liberian society against sexual predators.
At a time when Liberians are enduring extreme hardship and vulnerable women and little girls, even babies, are being raped and sodomized, the question is: Where are the church leaders? Why have the religious leaders in Liberia been so silent when the country is in turmoil? Nevertheless, we commend the few members of the clergy who have remained faithful to the Gospel and continue to strive for a wholesome functioning society, by also speaking truth to power. On the other hand, we view with disgust the activities of a growing number of religious leaders, especially many charismatic church leaders, who have commercialized the church and are seen to be engaged in nefarious activities that are undermining the fabric of a peaceful orderly society. These church leaders, including a charismatic archbishop who pronounced a curse on critics of President Weah, are culpable of simony, which is the selling of ecclesiastical privileges. We condemn religious leaders whose activities are inimical to the public interest.