Are Police Abusing State of Emergency?

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Some of the hungry children_web.jpg

Barely a week following the imposition of the state of emergency by President Ellen Johnson, some  poverty-stricken families, who usually depend on their children to serve as their bread-winners through petty trading, were left to encounter further hardships when some of the them (sellers) were asked to abandon their wares in the name of the state of emergency.

One of such parents who reportedly encountered the wrath of law enforcement officers—a mother, Sarah Manitoe, 32, had accompanied two of her children on their selling assignments over the weekend when they reportedly experienced such actions on the part of two unidentified police officers.

She told the Daily Observer that the two officers of the Liberian National Police (LNP) on patrol at the intersection of Benson/Lynch streets stopped them from selling their coconut signs in Central Monrovia.

She quoted the police as telling her that they (police) were acting on the law regarding the presidential state of emergency being imposed.

By that stop order from the LNP, Madam Manitoe claimed her children were forced to lie down before a half-opened grocery shop, while she sat nearby to watch over them.

This allegation, the two LNP officers, who suddenly encountered the Daily Observer, vehemently denied, but they did not say what had transpired prior to the children’s being stopped from  selling. The two officers in dramatic fashion disappeared in thin air without uttering a word when they noticed that our reporter had pulled out his camera to capture the scene.

Earlier, some commuters were reportedly encountering  similar difficulties while in the process of selling their wares in central Monrovia. Those reports are yet to be independently confirmed.

At the same time, the ongoing state of emergency has given rise to the increment of the prices of basic commodities including rice, where a 25kg bagnprevious sold for L$1250, is being sold on the market for L$1500.

In post-war Liberia, 90 percent of the population lives below US$1 daily since they earn their livelihood by petty trading.  

However, President Sirleaf’s imposition of the state of the emergency last Wednesday is part of the fight against the spread of the deadly Ebola virus that continues to take away precious lives across the country.

The President announced that the nation is currently affected to the extent where the disease has now spread to eight counties — Lofa, Bong Margibi, Nimba, Bomi, Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Grand Gedeh.

Liberia, the President said, is among three countries, experiencing an unprecedented outbreak of the virus, the largest since the virus was first discovered in 1976.

“It now poses serious risks to the health, safety, security and welfare of our nation. And beyond the public health risk, the disease is now undermining the economic stability of our country to the tone of millions of dollars in lost revenue, productivity and economic activity,” the President said.

 As such, and out of fear of being infected with the disease, health care practitioners are afraid to accept new patients, especially in community clinics all across the country. Consequently, President Sirleaf added that many common diseases which are especially prevalent during the rainy season, such as malaria, typhoid and common colds, are going untreated, which may lead to unnecessary and preventable deaths.

 Based on her concern for Liberians, the President said, her government requires extraordinary measures for the very survival of the state and for the protection of the lives of Liberians.

 “Therefore, and by the virtue of the powers vested in me as President of the Republic of Liberia, I, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, and in keeping with Article 86(a) (b) of the Constitution of Liberia, hereby declare a State of Emergency throughout the country effective as of August 6, 2014 for a period of 90 days.”

Under this State of Emergency, the President said, the government will institute extraordinary measures, including, if need be, the suspensions of certain rights and privileges.

By that, the President further instructed all non-essential government staff to stay at home for 30 days, ordered the closure of schools, and authorized the fumigation of all public buildings. Markets in affected areas have been shut down and movement restricted in others.

While sending children out to sell in the streets amounts to child labor, the above incident speaks to a different issue, as the officers were clearly not acting in the interest of child rights and fled the scene upon encountering a reporter. If they were simply abusing their powers, that presents a problem.

There is a need to define exactly what rights and priveleges are being suspended in line with this State of Emergency, especially as far as the Armed Forces are concerned, in order to prevent the abuse of power and the state of emergency.

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