— Victim’s family seeking rights group’s intervention
Family members of a businesswoman, Siah Johnson, who was allegedly flogged by officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP), just because she was not wearing a face mask, as protection against the COVID-19 Pandemic have threaten to file a lawsuit of human rights violation against the police’s hierarchy.
The incident is believed to have happened early Tuesday, morning, April 28 at the Duala Market, one of the commercial district, outside of Monrovia.
This was after the Police Inspector General, Col. Patrick Sudue publicly announced that people not wearing face masks will not be allowed to walk on the street and that the joint security team would whipped anybody caught in violation of the face mask restriction.
Narrating her ordeal in the hands of the police while she and one of her brothers, Counselor Arthur T. Johnson, left the headquarters of the Liberia National Police (LNP), where they had gone with her complained, Madam Johnson said, “I am feeling the bruises on my body.”
Both Cllr. Johnson and his sister Siah told journalists at the Temple of Justice where they went to begin their legal process against the police that they are going to also file a formal complaint before Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) and there outlining the human rights violation against Siah by the police.
“This is a human rights violation and I am going to file a formal complaint to the Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) and there I will document everything,” Cllr. Johnson told reporters.
According to Madam Johnson, the officers used physical force to remove her from a tricycle (keh-keh) in which she and two other persons including the driver was riding, while on their way to the Duala Market buy her goods there.
“I did not wear my mask but I have it in my bag and I informed the officers about it being there, but they did not listen to me. Instead, they were interested in treating me like this by beating me with the rattan,” Siah claimed.
Madam Johnson also claimed that she lost over US$450 that was in her possession to buy her goods.
“I had US$450 in my bag and, when a female officer took it from me, I could not find it there,” Siah alleged.
Meanwhile, in a telephone conversation with the Daily Observer, on Wednesday, April 29, police spoke person, Moses Carter said, if the accusation is true, then it should be seriously condemned.
“If what is complained is true, then we all should condemn [such act] and those involved be seriously punished,” Carter noted.
Carter, meanwhile, advised Madam Siah to do a formal communication and addressed it to the Inspector General, Patrick Sudue, where she would include and document her accusation against the alleged officers.
“We have a procedure in addressing alleged brutality [by] officers and so, she should write her formal complaint documenting the incident and the name of the officers involved, before the Inspector general can intervene and forward the matter to the professional standard division for proper investigation,” Carter said, adding, “This is the only way the IG would order an investigation into the matter.”
Siah claimed that it was her brother, Cllr. Johnson, who instructed her to file a complaint against the officers at the LNP Headquarters, where she claimed that she sit there for hours without anyone willing to listen to her, which action necessitated the legal decision.
In his swift intervention, Cllr. Johnson vowed that his family would not treat the incident lightly.
“This is a human rights violation and I will make sure it reaches that Independent Human Rights Commission to be documented as police brutality there and before going to the court, even to the Economic Community (ECOWAS) Court, in Abuja, Nigeria,” Cllr. Johnson promised.
Cllr. Johnson said, the decision for enforcement of the violation of the state of emergency does not lie within the discretion or authority of the police director or other police officers.
“It should be a policy decision; the legislature must be clear within the rules that they promulgated and when they said that everybody must followed the health protocol, in the state of emergency,” Cllr. Johnson noted.
He continues that it is the responsibility of the lawmakers to specify the punishment against violators, which was not done.
“Though, the lawmakers did not specify the punishment, and they did not say anyone who violated health protocol must be flogged by officers with rattan,” Cllr. Johnson observed.
He also described the police action against his sister, Siah, as “human rights violation.”
“There should have been a clarity and it should not have been left with the law enforcer to determine it punishment and, since there is no prescribed punishment, the officers should have been made to follow the rule based on strict instruction and not to jump around beating people,” Cllr. Johnson suggested.
Reflecting on the civil conflict, Cllr. Johnson said, these were some of the factors that led to the war and advised state actors to avoid reoccurrence of the past.
“This is not a pre-war period that police officers should use rattan to beat on innocent just for not wearing a mask. This is the mistake that was responsible for the war,” Cllr. Johnson warned, wondering, “Has flogging Siah made the virus to leave the country? Or has using gun also caused the virus to leave Liberia? Why should the police flog people even more than they do to suspected criminals and armed robbers.”
According to Cllr. Johnson, during the COVID-19 pandemic period police officers should be professional in the way they apply the state of emergency in order for citizens to have confidence in them. He believes that flogging people with rattan as a way of maintaining the pubic heath order for not wearing mask, is questionable.
According to Johnson, it is time for police officers to exhibit professionalism because they are one of the security institutions in the region to have benefited from foreign professional mentoring and training.
“The officers should be professional in the way they apply the state of emergency in order for citizens to have confidence in them. What is even unfortunate is that the IG Sudue directed the flogging of citizens,” Cllr. Johnson emphasized.