–as Mayor Koijee condemns their action
By Hannah N. Geterminah and Tina S. Mehnpaine
As the anti-rape protest by citizens entered its third day on August 27, The joint security, comprising the Liberia National Police (LNP), Liberia Immigration Service (LIS), Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) and the Liberia National Fire Service (LNFS), was again seen brutalizing the peaceful protesters who have gathered to demand urgent action from the government of President George Weah to step up the fight against rape and sexual violence against women.
Yesterday’s protest saw thousands of people, including prominent politicians, converging in the street and calling on the government to declare a state of emergency against rape and sexual violence as cases across the country continue to increase.
On the second day, some officials including Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., Montserrado County Senator Saah Joseph, and Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee were booed by the protesters when they appeared on separate occasions among the protesters.
In spite of the denigrating approach against the officials, no protester was manhandled until Thursday, August 27, when the security turned furious and beat on the protesters, hitting a woman in her stomach, wounding a man on the arm and arresting several others. The state security officers also fired tear gas to disperse the crowd; a step that could not deter the protesters from converging at the Vamoma House where they had over the past days gathered.
“They just assaulted us, saying that nobody was going to gather and instructed us to go home,” said Facia Harris, a women rights activist.
The security officers had told the protesters not to use the main Tubman Boulevard but streets running alongside the Boulevard, but they (protesters) insisted that they would use the Boulevard as they did earlier; something that also prompted the brutal action of the security officers.
Joyce Teta, a protester who was victimized by the action of the state security officers said, “Even though I was flogged and abused today, I will continue to speak against rape issue without fear.”
Joyce was beaten and kicked in the stomach by officers of the Liberian National Police in Jallah Town after she was told not to join the protesters who were marching toward the US Embassy to present a copy of their petition. According to Joyce, the action by the officers was a strategy by the government to disrupt their peaceful march against rape.
Meanwhile, Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee, apparently appalled by the security action, has condemned the brutality and stated that there was no reason for such inhumane acts against peaceful citizens who did not commit any act that threatens security.
An influential member of the ruling party, Koijee said: “First of all, I condemn the police brutality; they should not have beaten anyone, people should be protected by the police.”
Since the first day of the protest, the protesters insisted that they want to hand-deliver their petition to the President because they do not trust the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection officials sent to receive it. But President Weah has not consented to such demand by the protesters. Mayor Koijee, in defense of President Weah, has denied that the President has refused to accept the petition and suggests that this is the political side of the protest to achieve some the political edge.
“The President cares; that’s why he decided to send the Gender Minister, who handles all matters at the level of the Executive on rape and other sexual and gender-based violence issues, to receive their petition for onward presentation to him. Anti-rape campaign is a legitimate cause. So we need to work collectively to end rape and reinforce the rape laws,” said the Mayor.
Liberia subscribes to the international protocol that eschews capital punishment for perpetrators of capital offenses; something that Koijee says he supports, apart from being contained in an international protocol. Nevertheless, he said he supports harsher punishment against convicted rapists, including castration.
In a statement, recorded live on August 27, Mayor Koijee is heard saying: “I support castration. Perpetrators should be castrated once they are found guilty because, in that way they will not be able to sexually assault a child.”
The protest started on Tuesday, August 25, with protesters presenting a copy of their petition to the National Legislature, drawing the members’ attention to the social menace. “We have a rape pandemic on our hands. There have been hundreds of rape cases across the country and the numbers keep climbing exponentially,” the petitioners lamented. “Our mothers and daughters are under attack daily by predators that have no fear of bearing the full weight of the law. These outrageous acts are only persisting because our justice system has been so weak that perpetrators commit these atrocities and go free; because our laws have been made lax and created loopholes for these criminals to exploit.”
The protesters in their petition are calling for increased budgetary allocation in the FY 2020/2021 budget for Criminal Court “E,” strengthening of the judicial system for speedy trial of rape and other Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) cases, and the hiring of more judges to hear and determine rape and SGBV cases speedily and expeditiously.