Curfew Fear Grips Paynesville Red-light Community

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Barely two weeks following the declaration of a State of Emergency by the Liberian Government as part of measures to help contain the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in Liberia, the Liberia National Police officers operating along the Red Light Somalia Drive on Monday, August 18, caused fear and panic among the citizenry and residents of that busy suburb when they order all shops and business centers closed by 9 p.m. 

Riding on board a police pick-up under the command of one Patrick Kumanzu, believed to be the Commander of Zone Five Depot 1, the officers moved from one business center to another ordering an immediate shut down and halt to all commercial activities.

Residents and business owners were not only taken aback by the police action but were equally agog in understanding what was unfolding. But the officers affecting such mandate did not give any explanation as to the reason underpinning their action.

As far as residents could recall, on Tuesday, August 6, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had declared a State of Emergency throughout the Republic of Liberia. The State of Emergency was to last for a period of 90 days, but the Liberian government has not specified which rights and privileges had been suspended under the current state of emergency. So it was certainly puzzling to have seen a contingent of police officers parading the street of Paynesville and behaving in the mode and fashion as they did.

The State of Emergency is in keeping with Article 86 A and B of the 1986 Liberian Constitution, which gives the Head of State the authority to exhibit such power when the existence of the state is under threat.

In declaring the State of Emergency, President Sirleaf had stated that “the government will institute extraordinary measures including, if need be, the suspension of certain rights and privileges as mandated by the constitution”.

So in the absence of an announcement effecting a curfew, it was unclear to the Paynesville populace as to whether the late Monday night police action was in line with the "extra-ordinary measures" of which the President had made mention.

Fatu Fahnbulleh, a fast food joint operator, was eager to know the current perimeter of the State of Emergency, since there was no mention of a curfew under the current State of Emergency.

Chauffeur Francis Momolu contended, “We are law abiding citizens; so if the government wants us to leave the street by 9 p.m. let it be announced so that we are in the know and behave accordingly.”

But as he saw the current situation, the police late Monday night operation in Paynesville “suggests that we are gradually moving towards a police state.”

But for the residents of Paynesville, one thing was clear: President Sirleaf had not declared a curfew in any part of the country since her August 6 declaration of the State of Emergency. As such, the citizenry expected the Liberia National Police to explain to them, especially in the active commercial suburb of Paynesville, at whose behest they were operating.

The Monday night police action was not only traumatic to a population that has known peace for the last ten years but has left many residents and business owners wondering whether this will be a routine nightly event.

It is now clear, of course, that the police action was premature, since the President just announced a nationwide curfew Tuesday night, August 19. Furthermore, the President announced that the 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew goes into effect Wednesday, August 20 (today).

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