-Acquisition of COVID-19 passes may take center stage
The Acting Chairman of the Council of Patriots (COP), the loudest critical voice to the George Weah administration has spent two nights behind bars at the Liberia National Police (LNP) headquarters after he was arrested o Monday by Joint Security Forces of the government over what it termed as an inciting comment posted on Facebook, stating a preference for AK47s over the distribution of rice in the country.
Menipakei Dumoe posted on his facebook page, “We don’t need free bags of rice. I say we the poor in Monrovia need AK-47s so our leaders can take us seriously.”
The COP head, who was arrested and handcuffed after LNP officers and court sheriff searched his home apparently for weapons, is yet to be charged by the government—a situation that has prompted uneasiness among rights advocates and some legal minds. The arrest has received a barrage of condemnation from the Liberian public and the local human rights community.
Many are of the opinion that no matter how harsh the comment might sound, Mr. Dumoe has broken no laws and that the government’s action is meant to intimidate Mr. Dumoe and to also send a caveat to opposition leaders and other critical voices about what they should expect when they “cross the line.”
Dumoe said his post has been misconstrued by the state and many others. According to him, his call was for citizens to not just accept free rice that the government promised to distribute without questioning the system that had them living in desperate poverty.
“I am a non-violent political activist and will never call for the use of actual guns. Civil resistance is my Modus Operandi,” he told Spoon FM in Monrovia, noting that the reference to the weapon was a metaphor, as the AK47 is a globally known symbol of resistance.
Finding a charge to hook Dumoe now in relation to his post seems to be a headache for the government and it appears the prosecution arm of the regime has started looking at alternative means to have him prosecuted. For his part, the Solicitor General, Sayma Syrenius Cephas, has said that the comment could undermine the peace and security of the state, and create fear among citizens.
“Dumoe, for strange reason, decided to test our resolve. Today, it has been proven that his statement created fear and it is a campaign of terror and misinformation that clearly represents the fake and dangerous news I was talking about,” the SG said at a press conference at the police headquarters in Monrovia.
“This man decided to make a very reprehensible statement that tends to undermine the peace and security of the state. You can criticize your government but to give an order for a call to arms is very serious.”
The SG, who is also the Chief Prosecutor for the country also claimed that the statement violates the state of emergency proposed by President George Weah—an assertion that has been debunked by many legal luminaries in the country. The SOE, according to them only limited freedom of movement and does not restrict or suspend any freedom relating to speech or expression.
However renowned Human Rights Lawyer, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe has disagreed and said that the COP acting head has broken no law and in fact his comment is guaranteed under Liberian laws and that the arrest constitutes a violation of Dumoe’s rights.
Cllr. Gongloe, who is a former solicitor general of the state, said Dumoe’s opinion is covered under the freedom of speech or expression, guaranteed by Articles 14 and 15 of the constitution—noting that the opposition stalwart should not have been arrested by the state. He is also the president of the Liberia National Bar Association.
Gongloe also told journalists in a brief interview on Wednesday that the government’s action is meant to divert the public’s attention from the core issue—the fight against the marauding COVID-19. “This action is meant to grossly undermined the current fight against the COVID-19 pandemic”.
He further revealed that the government also did not follow the basic procedures of criminal law, which guarantees the one being accused the right to his lawyer.
“Let the police and [National Security Agency] stop intimidating people for free speech because free speech is enshrined in our constitution and there [are] no limitations,” he said.
Besides the constitutional protection of free speech, Gongloe noted that the Kamara A. Kamara Act of Press Freedom decriminalized speech when Pres. Weah signed it into law in 2019. The Executive Director of the Liberia Media Center, Atty. Lamii Kpargoi, also share similar thoughts as the learned rights advocate.
Atty. Kpargoi said on his social media platform that he was concerned about the trajectory of the country, given the solicitor general’s justification for arresting Dumoe: “After watching that display, I can say with a heavy heart that there is no hope for Liberia for the remainder of the current government’s tenure. What even more horrified me was his mention of the arrest-release-and-immediately-re-arrest tactic that was favored by the apartheid regime of South Africa against its political opponents.”
He said such a tactic is nothing short of harassment and if law enforcement legally had such a power, no government will be required to take anyone to court for an alleged offense. “They could simply arrest, release, and arrest the person in perpetuity. Such a scenario does not have and will never have a legal basis in any functioning democracy”.
Some opposition political leaders have since condemned the arrest urging the government to have Dumoe release immediately. ALP’s Benoni Urey, who is also Chairman of the CPP and ANC political leader, Alexander Cummings in separate statements, said the regime is acting disorderly
Could COVID-19 Passes be the Hook?
SG Cephus has disclosed that 25 COVID-19 Access Passes were discovered at Dumoe’s home during the execution of the search and seizure order from the court.
The Chief Prosecutor noted that the passes along with “significant documents” were seized and have been taken in for investigation by the Liberia National Police.
“Prior to coming here today, I had thought that it was just the making and posting of the statement. I did not know that there were other documentations and other issues that require clarity,” Cllr. Cephus said.
He added: “Part of the issues, for example, Menipakei Dumoe alone has 25 COVID-19 passes. Well, he acquired them legitimately but what was the purpose? He said he engages in cars business but there is no record around where he is involves in transportation business.”
According to Cllr. Cephus, there is a need for extensive investigation about how Dumoe got hold of 25 COVID-19 passes, something the Liberia’s Solicitor says he does not have.
“Dumoe used what is termed as a misrepresentation, deception and fraud to procure 25 COVID-19 passes. What was his objective of procuring these things? One person 25 COVID-19 passes, I who here do not have any COVID-19 pass,” he said.
Cllr. Cephus added: “I was coming this afternoon with intent to say let the man go, but when I looked at the documentation and other things that were seized from his house; I say no. let’s do an intensive investigation and let the police counter some of these things. Let them talk to him (Dumoe) as to whether some of what he is saying is true or whether he had just manufactured some of these things.”
Many including Cllr. Gongloe and the opposition, have frown on the level of selective justice that is being perpetrated by the government.
The critics said that the government is being selective about who it investigated. In 2019, a former rebel general called for the formation of a Kru Defense Force and the arrest of Montserrado’s 10th district lawmaker, Yekeh Kolubah, without being arrested by the government.
Some also noted that CDC chairman, Mulbah Morlu, had mentioned in a leaked audio recording that the president was offering government jobs for sex and using public funds for his personal benefit without being invited for investigation. Morlu is reported to have also accused opposition leaders of harboring plans to assassinate President Weah.