Korkpor, Gongloe Clash

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"They were not political prisoners," the Chief Justice Korkpor (left) claims. But Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe (right) asserts otherwise.

— Over Record of ‘political prisoners’ from Tolbert era

The utterance by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor that there were no political prisoners when he was employed with the Ministry of Justice, decades prior to becoming the head of the Judicial Branch of the Government, did not go down well with Counselor Tiawan Gongloe, who himself was a victim.

Addressing the opening of the March 2021 Term of the Supreme Court, Justice Korkpor, for the first time, recalled allegations that while working with the MoJ in the late 1970s as Research Coordinator at the Bureau of Correction, during the administration of President William R. Tolbert, it was reported that he tortured political prisoners.

Justice Korkpor further recalled that during the Tolbert era, the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews, Oscar Quiah and current RiverGee County Senator, Conmany B. Wesseh were those arrested after the April 14, 1979 rice riot in Monrovia. He claimed that they were subsequently granted an executive pardon.

“They were not political prisoners,” the Chief Justice claimed.

The Chief Justice said the accusation that he tortured political prisoners was intended to injure his character and reputation with the international community. “It is also just not true,” he said in his own defense.

In a swift reaction, Cllr. Gongloe publicly told his audience, including justices of the Supreme Court, judges and lawyers, that there were political prisoners after the April 14, 1979 incident.

Gongloe, who is the President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA), said when citizens are arrested for exercising their civil and political rights and arbitrarily detained, there can be no other expression that fits them other than political prisoners.

In the case of Matthews, Quiah and others, Gongloe wondered: “Were those arrested after the April 14 street protest against the increment in the price of rice not political prisoners?”

Gongloe explained that the protest was against a government policy to increase the price of rice.

“Those opposed to that policy exercised their constitutional rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government not to implement that policy,” Gongloe said.

Further, Gongloe reminded his audience that during the Tolbert era, almost all dissenting voices in the country, including leaders of the pressure groups such as the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), the student organizations, like the University of Liberia Students Union (ULSU) and the Liberia National Students Union (LINSU), were silenced by arrests and threats of arrest.

“They were incarcerated at the Monrovia Central Prison without a writ. It was only after a few days that they were issued a writ of arrest and charged with treason,” Gongloe recalled, differing with Chief Justice Korkpor.

In a counterargument to Gongloe’s statement, Justice Korkpor maintained his stance that he is not aware of any political prisoners during the tenure of President Tolbert.

Rather, Korkpor said he can remember that only a group of people from Maryland County including, Anderson, Yancy, Nyenpan and Taryonon who were arrested, imprisoned and convicted for ritualistic killings.

“And, they were subsequently hanged. But, they were not political prisoners,” Korkpor challenged Gongloe’s statement.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I now see why the judiciary in Liberia is so corrupt, because the head of the judiciary does not know the difference between political prisoners, and ritualistic killers. He does not know that when people are put in prison for expressing their constitutional rights they called political prisoners. I wonder which law school chief justice Korkpor graduated from?
    He should be impeached from the bench immediately in my opinion!

  2. So Mr. Tolo Bonah Corfah, according to you, the 1,800 arrested and now in jail in myanmar are political prisoners? My friend, be capable of distinguishing protesters or rioters jailed from notable activists or politicians jailed for their political opinion or political beliefs.

    When Du Fahnbulleh was recalled by the tyrant, dictator, and despot William V.S. Tubman and jailed because of his political opinion or beliefs, of course he was a political prisoner.

    When Dusty Wolokolie looked Doe in the face and blasted that decree 88 was a mess, and that “strange things were happening“, and languished in jail for months, he was indeed a political prisoner.

    His Honor Chief Justices Francis Korkpor has given THE ACTUAL DEFINITION of who political prisoners are. Gongloe is simply giving a loose, apolitical, and non legal definition of the concept of political prisoners.

    Mere troublemakers, protesters, or rioters, are not political prisoners, not to talk about they being within the academic, legal, intellectual, or practical, definitional proximity of the terminology of prisoners of conscience.

  3. History must deepen understanding to avoid repeating its worst manifestations, not inflame passions that might widen sociopolitical gulfs. Frankly, no matter who’s right, the formal opening of a Supreme Court’s Term isn’t arena for fist fights. The LBA President should’ve later addressed the issue in a press statement with aim of skirting a foreseeable spectacle. Our many downtrodden poor cannot eat sensational portions of the few well-fed.

    • Thank you for the proposed ceasefire. There is a time for everything, let us then implenent some

      recommendation of the TRC Report.

  4. Tiawon Gongloe,
    exempary public service is critical to any national development.
    Exactly, the role of
    a National bar
    advances the science of jurisprudence; improve the administration of justice; preserve the independence of the judiciary and to uphold the honor and integrity of the legal profession; to promote professional and social intercourse among the members of the national bars and international bars; etc, etc.

    Liberia is rape nation unrelentless for assaults of rights violations of its citizens with no proactive LNBA over the years to confront menice!
    After a century and a half, pre-trial detentions beyond the satutory requirements persist including a century and a half unamended draconian criminal code of rights violations and abitariness. National politics and special interest have crippled special needs prison reforms,
    juevinile deliquence programs, has increased police brutality, has seen the rise of abitrary arrests and detentions by the courts and the police with civil liberties misapplied thereby only benefittimg the corrupt rich and governments with a false utopian Natiomal Bar Associationt that exerts its energy with rancourous debates false sybolism.
    A relevant NBA creates special education awareness through print and electronic media to sensitize on citizen rights and responsibilities, litigations, police arrests,

  5. Dear Chief Justice Korkpor, what favor or job are you seeking for making this assertion?

    As young as I was by then, I can confirm that there were political prisoners in Liberia during the tenure of President Tolbert!
    My father and many other people were arrested and jailed in Sanniquellie after the rice riot. They were freed after the coup d’état of April 12, 1980; to be exact, my father came home on April 13, 1980.

    I respect you, honorable Chief Justice. Stop making such comments about things some of us lived through at our tender age. Do not change history.
    We will forgive, but the current generation needs to know what actually transpired in those days.

    Unless the Chief Justice wants to give us a different definition of political prisoners, as we are now witnessing in the sub region with satraps and ruthless dictators preying on their people.

    Honorable Chief Justice, I am taken aback and flabbergasted by your declaration!

  6. The way I see it, this man need to make an apology! In a some countries, this is a recipe for forced resignation!

  7. If we loosely defined political prisoner the way Gongloe is suggesting, everything becomes political.

    Can we define the event of January 6 at the White House as political? The burning at the NEC as political? All wars as political? These are expression of political opinions but some actions cross into criminal behavior.

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