President George Manneh Weah has taken serious exception to the refusal of anti-rape protesters to present their petition to him through the Gender Minister Williametta Saydee-Tarr and Assistant Minister Mamensie Kaba on the first day of the protest.
In an interview with Ledgerhood Rennie, Director-General of the state-owned radio, Liberia Broadcasting System, President Weah said he was disappointed to see the same anti-rape protesters presenting their petition to representatives of the U.S. Ambassador but refusing to present the same to his designated representatives.
“Whether the ambassador was there or not, they didn’t care about it. They gave their petition but refused to deliver the same to their own government, even though I sent a team to receive it from them. It doesn’t make sense to me. Going forward, all Liberians need to know that we are all in a partnership. Be it a politician or not, we are all connected on several fronts,” President Weah said.
On the first day of the anti-rape protest, the protesters refused to hand over their petition to the Ministry of Gender officials, who had been designated by President Weah to receive the petition. They insisted that they wanted to deliver it directly to the President because they did not trust the officials who they claim have been here in the country hearing the increase in rape cases and doing little to address it.
The protest that has gone on for the last three days has received massive turnouts, triggered by several heartbreaking reports about rape from various parts of the country with less being done to prosecute the perpetrators.
Organized by The Affiliation of Women and Child Rights Advocates, the protest came right after reports had unveiled the raping of babies and a man using a razor blade on the private part of a three-year-old girl to rape her.
President Weah, in his first comment about the protest, said while it is good to protest, people have to be honest about their intentions and be civil in what they do when they get out in the streets.
“So, going forward, we will get to know who all are protesting. Where they come from and what they are doing. When we know that, it is easy for them to be guided, I don’t think the police will come in the streets,” President Weah said.
“I just want to remind you that I watched the [protest] live. You could see how many people were insulting the President. Those things are wrong. We are all talking about rape, but why should someone be the insulting authority– it is wrong to do so,” he added.
According to him, while it is the right of citizens to protest, it is also good to know that others who are not part of the protest deserve the same rights to free movement.
“I do not condone Police Brutality–that’s not what I want to see, but the police had to come in to help keep civil liberty. Remember that other people were in sympathy with the anti-rape campaign, but they had to go about doing their jobs. They were prevented at some point and the police had to come in to restore order,” Weah said.
In a statement appearing to support the brutal action of the police, President Weah said his “administration has experienced a series of protests and, in all, the Police did well.”
Nobel laureates support the protest
Two Liberian Nobel Peace Laureates, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Madam Leymah Gbowee have added their voices to the campaign against rape in the country. Gbowee specifically condemned the joint security for the clampdown on peaceful protesters.
“I woke up this morning to the news that the government of Liberia clamped down on the peaceful protesters marching against the pervasive rape culture in Liberia. This is sick, appalling, and a big shame on the Weah-led administration,” Gbowee wrote on her Facebook account. “To teargas and use violence on a peaceful gathering led by women against a pandemic is unimaginable.”
Like Gbowee, former President Sirleaf, who came out of her residence to support the anti-rape campaigners said given the increasing rape cases in recent times, the protesters have a reason to “protest for their freedom and safety.”
“Rape is a terrible menace that has long contributed to the crumbling of the moral structures of the country. Rape has always been a problem. It was before my administration, it was during my administration and it is still with us today,” Sirleaf said.
Meanwhile, the Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL) has expressed disappointment in the government of Liberia for deploying members of joint security officers to brutalize peaceful protestors.
FeJAL, in a statement signed by its president Siatta Scott-Johnson, describes the action on the part of the government as a “sad” moment for women and girls in Liberia and also a manifestation of arrogance and intolerance on the part of the government.