-Claims Rights Activist Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe
Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe says he has observed that police have routinely held many people behind bars awaiting trial, a practice which he believes is in complete violation of their civil liberties and also contributes to the huge number of pre-trial detainees throughout the country.
Gongloe, a human rights activist, said the law provides that a person accused of committing a crime is presumed to be innocent until guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt; but according to him, that is not the case with the police, because they are interested in jailing people before looking for evidence to prosecute them.
“They are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty but may be held in conditions that are worse than those of convicted prisoners – and sometimes for years on end. This is a violation of their rights to liberty and must stop immediately,” Gongloe emphasized.
“If there is no evidence, it is better for the accused to go home; what justice is there by keeping the accused in jail beyond the reasonable period required for sentencing,” Gongloe wondered, adding, “the practice is a violation of the accused’s civil liberties and is also contributing to over-crowding at most of our prison facilities like the Monrovia Central Prison.
“Sometimes people are accused of committing minor crimes that if convicted they would stay in jail for less than a year; but because of no evidence to prosecute them, the police keep them in prison for more than three years; that is bad and must stop immediately,” Gongloe said recently when he served as one of the panelists at the Africa Pre-Trial Detention Day Celebration.
The ceremony was organized by the Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) and was held at the conference hall of the Temple of Justice.
Gongloe said in a democratic society like Liberia, the liberty of an individual is very important and so the police need to understand that they should not just be considering sending people to jail; but to respect their rights that they are not yet guilty until it is proved beyond reasonable doubt.
“There is a philosophy that it is better to free 100 convicted criminals than to just keep an innocent person in prison, without establishing any guilt and although that person is presumed innocent. Yet they stay all those years in detention; this must stop now,” Gongloe stressed.
As a police officer, Gongloe advised, whenever you make an arrest and do not have admissible evidence but hastily sends that individual to jail, it makes it very difficult for the state to draw an indictment (charge) against the accused. This often results to that person ending up in jail for a period of time, because prosecution has no evidence to proceed with the case, Gongloe observed.
“Arresting people should not be based on hearsay information, because you will be taking away their liberty,” Gongloe emphasized.
According to Gongloe, police jail people sometimes because of community sentiment or public pressure, or on the assumption that because the accused person’s relative was a criminal, he too is likewise a criminal.
“Sometimes, senior police officers, without any evidence, can order an investigating junior officer to send people to jail, and the junior agrees and keeps that person in prison, based on his boss’ instruction; that is also a violation of people’s civil liberties and that must also stop,” Gongloe pleaded with the police.
Gongloe also claimed that out of the 1,072 inmates currently at the Monrovia Central Prison, 820 were pre-trial detainees and the remaining are convicts. This claim has, however, not been independently verified by the Daily Observer, although Gongloe may have been quoting official human rights or even police reports.