‘Stop Arresting People for Free Expression’

11
3852
Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe

Gongloe Warns Weah’s Gov’t

Counselor Tiawan Gongloe yesterday reminded President George Weah that his government needs to respect the constitutional provision which guarantees and protects freedom of expression.

Gongloe said the 1986 Constitution guarantees to all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression; and those rights should not be restricted except on grounds of public order which is valid only when there is a close connection between the speech and public disorder and when there is an imminent threat of lawlessness.

“These are elements of democracy; once you are not taking up arms or other weaponry to harm people and just expressing yourself nobody has any right to arrest you for that,” Gongloe indicated.

Gongloe, also a rights advocate, made the assertion at the main campus of the University of Liberia (UL) where he  addressed students who had gathered there to celebrate the immediate release of four of their leaders held by authorities of the Liberia National Police (LNP) the day before yesterday.

On Monday, July 23, UL Student Union (ULSU) President Flomo Mau, Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY) President Augustine Tamba, Amos Williams, and Seawon Lawaiyee were arrested for allegedly disrupting the Youth Interactive Forum that was held at the Monrovia City Hall.

The forum, which brought together international partners and members of the student population, was organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sport (MYS) as part of the nation’s 171st Independence  Day Celebration.

Addressing the students, Gongloe advised them to be respectful and to conduct themselves within the confines of the law.

“I know that people would resist your advocacy but, once it is done according to the law,  we are going to protect you as we did with some current government officials.” Gongloe’s utterance was greeted with cheers from the students.

Gongloe recounted that he once served as lawyer for some present government officials, making specific reference to Mulbah Morlu, chairman of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).

“I was one of those lawyers who freed Morlu from prison when he was abused by the past regime, and I always told him that his commitment was to ensure that everybody’s rights should be respected and no young people should go to jail because of their free expression,” Gongloe said, recollecting his conversation with Morlu. “But, you can see that within six months or so students are being sent to jail, and that needs to stop.”

According to Gongloe, before the release, he had consulted with the Minister of Justice Frank Musa Dean and Solicitor General Cllr. Daku Mulbah about the arrest of the students.

“I think it was based on that intervention that the students’ were released, but we need to stop arresting people for expressing themselves publicly,” he intoned.

Article 15(a) of the Liberian Constitution states that, “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.”

(b) also provides that, “The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.”

In a press statement yesterday, the students said they categorically and vehemently condemn the flogging and subsequent arrest of student and youth leaders on  orders of Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee.
SUP wants to duly inform the Liberian people and the International Community that the government of ex-Soccer Star George M. Weah has become severely brutal against peaceful students, youth leaders, and unarmed civilians.

The statement further said just in a period of less than 6 months, there has been a countless number of recorded instances of police brutality across Liberia, especially in Monrovia.

“Ex-Soccer Legend Weah and his heavily armed policemen under the Inspector-ship of  Patrick Sudue are on a well-planned mission to revert the democratic gains of Liberia made since August 2003,” the statement noted, adding: “The underpaid and salary-delayed police officers, especially from PSU and ERU, have been using lethal and disproportionate force against peaceful citizens including students, youth leaders, journalists, and unarmed civilians.

“SUP calls on all its militants to be vigilant, resolute and fearless in as much as the government of this President remains intolerant and insensitive to free speech, the rule of law, and the true tenets of democracy. We will not allow any further harassment, intimidation, and infliction of casualties on our people”.

It can be recalled that in less than 6 months under President Weah, the Liberia National Police has, according to sources, invaded the campuses of the University of Liberia more than 8 different times. During these arbitrary raids, unarmed students were flogged, harassed, injured, and arrested.

Authors

11 COMMENTS

  1. With the Liberian National Police not providing video and audio context as regards the arrest of alledged unlawful protesters; no convincing criminal history profile can be archived delineating patterns of unlawful behaviour of the accused.

    Integrating body cameras on the uniforms of arresting officers and releasing footage of the accused will clearly establish who the deviants are. These cameras cost less than $200 USD each folks ….

    Let’s diminish corruption by enhancing transparency of the Policing Administration in Liberia so as to improve the credibility of the Police Service.

    • Siezie Siefa, don’t forget that you’re speaking about the Liberian National Police having body-camps as security measures. These will be sold and there’s no need for it when citizens cannot get food to eat. Even in the US, footage of body-camps hasn’t convicted any police officer and stop suggesting something that will not be realized. Liberia is behind in everything and the first order of the day for President Weah is alleviate hardships on Liberians, establishing law & order to maintain the fragile peace, protecting lives & properties, enhancing the rule of law to protect every citizen and continuing with both social and infrastructure development. Our country is behind almost hundred years compare to other developing countries. I was in Liberia just last month, visiting many communities around Monrovia and some counties including Maygibi, Bomi, Bong, Grand Bassa…..what are saw in these places tells me that Liberians are hungry.

      Central Monrovia in the Sinkor District has good infrastructure controlled by Lebanese who occupies this District. Besides, Monrovia is a slum with few decent buildings scattered around Monrovia. En -route to Grand Bassa and Buchana, It was appalling that the once famous Harbel is nothing but farm houses that aren’t suitable for workers of the company that has exploited Liberia so much for many years. There’s a decent building at RIA, which is the Farmington Hotel where I stopped with some friends to cool off with club beer at prices the average Liberian cannot afford. In Buchana, I saw nothing but crumbling houses and a city almost overran by the increasing sea erosion that has web-out parts of Fanti Town and other surrounding communities. Yet, our law makers and ministers of government are paid salaries that aren’t paid in some Western countries. A law maker in Liberia make an average of $16000.00USD including all the allowances and peaks. This is a country rebuilding from a prolonged devastated Civil War. Shame on our people.

  2. n Liberia, as in the US, the Criminal Justice System is comprised of the police which investigate the cases and MOJ lawyers who prosecute them. That’s why LNP should have provided Justice Minister Musa Dean the probable cause warranting arrest of those students in order for his prosecutors to charge and ensure that a magistrate granted them bail. Because disturbing the peace at the Capitol to protest a funding bill for a senatorial by-elections isn’t a legitimate cause for which students should be left off the hook lightly.

    More so, by segment of a student body which has been active through social media and newspaper articles, since the presidential election campaign, in its frenzied opposition to the CDC-led Coalition. After the elections, in few written for the perspective. org journal, two of these students expressed interest in galvanizing the masses for a civil uprising to kick the government out of office. Well, Liberia just ended a presidential race during which the electorate emphatically made its choice with a 61% win for the George Weah – Jewel Taylor ticket.

    In other words, the premeditated politically-motivated actions of breaking the law by students who are bent on provoking confrontation with a government they’re opposed to should’ve been professionally handled by the Justice Ministty, which couldn’t have been oblivious to the ruckus at the Capitol and the consequent police action. Not to mention that the higher echelon there aren’t strangers to the grandiose machoistic culture of a politically-radicalized UL, their alma mater.

    Like I said before here, Liberia isn’t a One Party System state where some Student bodies, most Members of the Intelligentsia, Independent Media Outlets, and Trade Unions coalesced with the Masses to oppose the TWP Oligarchy. Any citizen in the country today with the wherewithal can run for elective office, therefore, the Security Sector won’t sit supinely while agent-provocateurs among our student population stoke commotion in a fragile contentiously polarized country. Needless to say that the Syrian War was caused by such mindset.

    That’s why our Security Sector Principals should be professional in handling issues of Constitutional Rights to avoid overreach like this which resulted in the intervention of a Human Rights lawyer – never mind one as endearing as Counselor Gongloe. For it only helps in emboldening students radicalism, most likely, to disastrous unforeseen circumstances. By the way, it is about time our Justice Ministry offcials reconsider that LNP falls fully under their focused supervision, hence won’t absolve themselves from major illegal omissions and commissions of that institution.

  3. The article you shared here is awesome. I really like and appreciate your work. The points you mentioned in this article are very helpful. I must try to follow these points and also share the other points.

  4. Director Varlee Keita, MOJ issued a press release late yesterday reminding the public about a 1975 statute which stipulates that would-be street protestors must get permits to do so. Ironically, more often than not, students direct their anger, reasonable or not, at the political leadership, which doesn’t give them any incentive to seek permits or abide by the rules, dictates or laws of the establishment. As a matter of fact, getting arrested and detained is a badge of honor for these students just like having been to jail happens to be for young American Rappers.

    This supports my previous proposal that police and prosecutors, as components of our Criminal Justice System, must reboot cooperation in arresting, charging, bailing, and prosecuting any breach of public peace by demonstrators. It doesn’t make me a national security hawk, that’s exactly how police forces in advanced democracies respond to public safety threats. And if you ask me, as students activism intensifies, it may be necessary to have a taskforce at MOJ composed of prosecutors and police officers to handle that responsibility. Laws mean nothing when they aren’t rigorously enforced, and this could be our nation’s Achilles’ heels – a laissez faire or laid back attitude to serious matters.

    • Mr. Moses, all this cavalier verbosity notwithstanding, the primary purpose of permits for marches, or demonstrations, or political rallies, etc., in democracies is essentially to balance the right of way between anticipated events and the general public, taking into consideration crowd spillover effect, the smooth flow of traffic, the free movement of other citizens, normal conduct of businesses, etc. Most important of all to identify a leadership for the planned event in the event any associated accountable necessity arises. And because of the ever-present prerogative of the power that be’s responsibility to adjudge any planned event ill-advised or not, anti-democratic governments have always used the “inherent danger” ruse as plausible alibi to deny permits to especially political opponents. So you can appreciate why it becomes impractical at times, and a waste of time to pursue permits from sources disinclined to issue one, if the situation demands otherwise. In other words, what is the essence of these democratic precepts if they are subject to the whims and caprices of some overarching lord? So the MOJ and its LNP could not have any justifiable cause for apprehending students for an anticipated demonstration. A demonstration which did not infringe any others’ rights or safety in society. That smacks of such undemocratic practice as the infamous and dreaded “Preventive Detention ACT” under the erstwhile apartheid regime of South Africa. No, such draconian practices will not be accepted. Never again in Liberia!

      • Mr. Snyder, you didn’t contradict my thrust except to add more details. Between 1966 and 1978 yours truly actually lived public safety in two multiparty democracies, so, spare us the shrilly “Never again”. As for the “verbosity”, the last time our warnings were ‘laconic’ and some never listened, thereby, costing Liberia a quarter million lives. Isn’t that rationale enough to be persistently long-winded?

  5. people must hear the truth is very bad if that do not happen here in America is the same why can the government accept that the true will make you free if we do not hear the truth we all will be lost so let them stop it and so we all will be free

  6. Mr. Snyder, you didn’t contradict the thrust never mind breathing hell fire; and for me public safety experience was life between 1976 and 1978 in two multiparty democratic countries. So spare this guy that shrilly “never again”; no one is against accountability, transparency, Human Rights, and other criteria for good governance. Conversely, rule of law and political stability are foundational to progress and peace. And “never again” would the many allow the few to ride them like donkeys.

    One last thing, Hilary, the “verbosity” is intentional; the last time some didn’t hear our laconic warnings, and it cost the nation a quarter million human beings and infrastructural destruction we have yet to recover from. Do you think James Joyce used ‘stream of consciousness’ technique in his 1922 novel “Ulysses” because he wants the characters to sound like lunatics; no, it was purposeful.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here