“Police Routinely Violate Suspects’ Rights”

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Tiawon Gongloe_web.jpg
Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe

-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.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. No wonder why our justice system is so messed up caused it seems like cllr. do not know if they or the police should be setting people free if they are not prosecuted in a given time.The detainees rights are being abused by the court system and not by police.Police abuse of detainee carries a different meaning for it sometime involves beating and assaulting the detainee.

  2. Police stations in Liberia are a business for profit. Police arrest people just because they want to get money. It doesnt matter if people are guilty or not. Busses full of people are arrested just for being in or near a so called Ghetto. If they are innocent, they can go after paying the police. If they are guilty they can go after paying the police a lot more. Nobody is brought to trial. Its just an income generating project. You can find the drug addicts back in the Ghetto after a few days. Then the DEA will come and arrest them again after a week or two and the game starts from the beginning again. Police arrests people who have some disagreement, e.g. one borrowed money and the other says he did not pay back in time. This is no criminal case. It is a business dispute. Police have no right to interfere. It has to go to civil court because no crime has been committed. Still police will readily arrest anyone, even without evidence, just so they can eat money both from the accuser and from the accused. And they don’t pay one cent of taxes to the LRA for all this income.

  3. Thank you. The current Police boss himself is guilty of similar act. He abuses citizens’ rights to satisfy his ego and to justify his power. He does not understand what is termed “professional discretion” this is why he is not fit to be a police chief. However, he is and I hope he proves me wrong.

    I am hoping he succeeds despite his significant shortcoming because, after all, it is the Liberian people that will suffer as a result of his failure. So I hope he succeeds.

    Not anybody can be police overall chief. Some people are only good to be subordinates. To be a police boss you must be strategic in your thinking and proactive in your actions because once a crime happens the scar cannot be reversed.

  4. When police officers who solemnly swore on the Bible and supposed to enforce the law “routinely” violates suspects’ rights, they are breaking the law. The trend started long time ago, and isn’t going to stop until a comprehensive review and reformation of our criminal justice system – LNP which investigates and carries out arrests, and MOJ that prosecutes offfenders – take place.

    At one point some thought the source of the problem was officers’ unfamiliarity with rules of evidence, or ignorance of when to arrest with or without warrants signed by a magistrate, or issues concerning granting bail to accused. It dawned on many that such detentions, which cause overcrowding and sometimes spread diseases, are mostly used for extortion – the proverbial ‘bail’ money which doesn’t get into the coffers of government.

    Compounding the problem is a national mindset averse to punishing officials caught breaking the law. As a matter of fact, it is difficult finding five individauls in any Liberian prison convicted of white collar crimes, for example financial fraud. Seemingly, all one has to do is spend part of the proceeds with a lawyer and ‘friends’ in the criminal justice system. And now that without wages, or legal means to afford them, everybody wants a big house and jeep, the money-hustling and lawlessness only get worse.

    Yet we often wonder why adversarial relationship between public and the security sector, hence lack of cooperation necessary in preventing, or quickly solving, major crimes plaguing the nation. Whether naysayers believe it or not, the misbehavior of few bad apples within the Security Sector poisons a well of goodwill, and cause setback to the efforts of dedicated colleagues in meeting policing challenges.

    Thank you, once again, Counselor Tiawon Gongloe, for not keeping silent in the face of creeping danger. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the US coined a motto “If You See Something, Say Something” as a public safety awareness venture. So some of us freely share in Liberia knowledge and experience gained over a long period of time from multiple threat environments. The irony is that I’ve been accused of showboating on this platform by numbskulls – foolish people, were I white they would’ve been quoting me all over the place.

  5. The 14-year armed conflict in Liberia was the sleaziest, deadliest and the worst of them all. Probably more people died in Liberia during that painful period than the Aparthied years of South Africa. Just maybe. According to UN estimates, a little over a quarter of a million people lost their lives. My oldest sister died in the Bong Mines during the uncivil war.

    So, what was the impact on the lives of “some” Liberians?

    Some Liberians are mentally messed up. Especially some of our law enforcement personnel. To validate my point, a law enforcement wuss who calls himself a cop, shot a suspect (Lamin) to death. A law enforcement personnel whose mind is messed up will do such a stupid thing. Perhaps in his heart of hearts, The killer cop thought that he was doing the right thing. What needs to be underscored is that the 14-year uncivil war has caused a mental breakdown for some people.

    That is scary.
    It seems that Liberians will forever live with an existential threat. I am unhappy to say that, but that’s the truth and nothing but the truth. From now on, when a law enforcement officer makes an arrest, the suspect and his or her family members must pray to God in order to be spared the rage of a warped officer.

    The criminal justice system in Liberia needs to be revamped.

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