‘Zayzay’s Burial Does Not End Quest for Justice’

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Victoria Zayzay, the 20-year-old pregnant woman who died under mysterious circumstances while in custody at Depot 1, Zone 6 police cell on Hotel Africa Road in Virginia, outside Monrovia on October 20, 2015, has been laid to rest.

She was interred on Thursday, March 31 at the Brewerville cemetery following a funeral service held at the Bethel Banjor Church, where the the family was encouraged to place their trust in God, who would give them justice in the end.

The body was removed from the St. Moses Funeral Parlor as hundreds came to sympathize and pay their last respects to a woman whose unborn child died with her.

Victoria’s body was paraded from the funeral home through Somalia Drive before it was deposited at the church. In the funeral discourse, the pastor called on the bereaved to remain united to take care of the rest of their children.

The distraught family could not dry their tears as the remains of their daughter were, at the end of the brief service, conveyed to its final resting place. There were placards from sympathizers and well-wishers, calling for justice and calling the Zone 6 Police Depot “criminal”. A banner printed in Victoria’s memory read, “The unborn child and her mother; Justice is pending in the hands of the Government of Liberia.”

The cry for justice for the late Victoria Zayzay and her unborn child is a result of the family’s unwillingness to accept a statement from the Ministry of Justice that Ms. Zayzay committed suicide.

The statement followed an autopsy conducted by two Ghanaian pathologists, a leaked copy of which stated otherwise.

At the funeral were friends, sympathizers and human rights activists. Mr. Adama Dempster, lead investigator and founding director of the Independent Human Rights Investigators (IHRI) told the Daily Observer that with the circumstances surrounding the death of Ms. Zayzay, it is about time the Liberian government take steps to deter the feeling of insecurity among people, “especially when the government takes one into custody.”

Without elaborating or clarifying his comment, Dempster said that Zayzay’s burial does not signify the end of the case and the search for justice for her family.

Zayzay left behind a two-year-old daughter, Hawa.

The Liberian government reportedly gave the deceased’s family US$3,500 to assist with funeral costs.

TIMELINE: The Victoria Zayzay story

On October 21, Victoria Zayzay, 20, was found dead while in detention at Zone 6, Depot 1 police station in Virginia, outside Monrovia. She had a two-year-old daughter, Hawa, and was pregnant with a second child. Police told the Daily Observer that she hanged herself and was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby community clinic after the Liberia National Police (LNP) detained her for “disorderly conduct.”
Family members said the late Zayzay was detained when she and another lady, Mamie Morris, reportedly fought over spilt milk candy valued at L$1,500 (US$16). According to the commander at the depot, it was decided that Zayzay should spend the night in police custody to “teach her a lesson.”

Victoria’s mother, Comfort Zayzay, said she pleaded with police to let her take her daughter home and return with her the following morning, but to no avail.

Zayzay’s parents said they refused to believe that she hanged herself because she did not carry a lappa into the cell as claimed by the LNP.
“She also had people to take care of her; therefore, nothing could have led her to hang herself,” the family said.

By November 10, 2015, three weeks after her death, no autopsy had been performed.

On Dec 10, 2015, Police Inspector General Chris Massaquoi issued a press statement claiming that a few hours following the victim’s incarceration, she was discovered unconscious in the cell with her lappa tied from the cell gate around her neck, sitting flat on the floor and leaning against the gate. Police said she was bent over with her head resting on her chest, with thick fluid oozing from her mouth.
She was reportedly hurriedly removed from the cell and rushed to the Redemption Hospital for medical attention, where she was pronounced dead on arrival (DOA) by medical authorities there.
Director Massaquoi said a Ghanaian pathologist, contracted by the Liberian government had completed an autopsy on the body of Victoria Zayzay, and that the GoL was awaiting the findings from the Ministry of Justice. He said the findings would establish the cause(s) of Ms. Zayzay’s death and he assured the general public that the LNP attaches serious concern to this matter and a comprehensive investigation is ongoing, pending the outcome of the autopsy report.

Investigations have revealed that the deceased was charged with Simple Assault and Criminal Mischief, and incarcerated in the female cell at about 6:30 p.m., at which time she was the only person in the cell waiting to be forwarded to court for prosecution on the above mentioned charges.

On Wednesday, December 11, Victoria’s mother, Madam Comfort Zayzay, met Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor on the grounds of the Temple of Justice and begged him to help her get justice.
Madam Zayzay was among a group of women staging a sit-in protest in front of the ToJ, demanding justice over recent waves of killings in the country. She tearfully begged the Supreme Court Chief Justice, “Your Honor, I am desperately in need of justice against those who are responsible for the death of my pregnant daughter.”

The Chief Justice did not promise her justice, but directed her and her fellow protesters to the Ministry of Justice, which he said was responsible for giving them justice.
“They are responsible to ensure that people get justice by providing strong evidences to the court,” the Chief Justice told Madam Zayzay. “This is a place of justice for all – the accused and the complainant. We are not here for a particular group. Instead we are here for everybody.”
Korkpor told the group that he was prepared to listen to them if they agreed to channel their grievances in an organized manner, instead of a protest, and advised the bereaved women not to use the judiciary for political purposes.
“This is not a political ground and we will not tolerate people holding protest as a means of getting justice. This is not the purpose of the Judiciary. We are a not a party to any case; we are only here to make sure everybody gets justice,” he chided the bereaved mother whose pregnant daughter had died in police custody.

Madam Zayzay later journalists at the Temple of Justice that since the news broke out about the death of her daughter in police custody, the government had not done anything to ensure that her daughter gets the required justice.
“I need the Chief Justice’s intervention because the government informed me that they brought a pathologist, who had performed an autopsy on the body, but up to present they have failed to show us, the family, the results, and it has taken over a month,” she explained.
“Even if the result comes out,” Mrs. Zayzay said, “I won’t get that justice because there is nowhere to preserve her body; and by this time, her corpse may have been decayed. So what kind of result will I get?
“Before the pathologist came her body may have been damaged and the evidence would have been destroyed because there is nowhere to preserve it,” she said in tears.
“Her two-year-old child and I will never rest until Victoria can get justice so that she can rest in peace. I need justice for my daughter and other kids who died under similar circumstances. This is why I joined this protest.
“I am tired. I want justice. Why can’t I get justice? They killed my daughter in the cell.”

Then in late January 2016, three months after Victoria’s death, the leaked autopsy report of two Ghanaian pathologists was released.
The official autopsy report has not been published, but a leaked copy revealed that the two pathologists who conducted the autopsy confirmed the family’s worst suspicion – that Victoria Zayzay had not died from hanging.
In their final report, the pathologists said: “There is no bleeding into the scrap muscle and surrounding soft tissue is seen, the greater horns of the hyoid bone is soft and pliable and, no facture is present,” adding “Thyroid cartilage is intact and no fracture seen.”

A highly placed Ministry of Justice (MOJ) source confirmed the authenticity of the final autopsy report to journalists on condition of anonymity.
“We received the report sealed and we quickly contacted the Zayzays and their lawyers before we unsealed it,” the source said.
“We are not going to hide anything. This is why we brought into the country the two Ghanaian pathologists.
“Since the report is now here, we are going to conduct further investigation; and if it establishes that anyone is involved, we are going to deal with such person according to the law.
“We have been handling Zayzay’s death in our cell transparently, and we want to assure the public that we will remain transparent until the matter is brought to rest,” the MoJ source assured the public.

Since then, it is unclear whether any arrests have been made. Up until the victim’s burial on Thursday, March 31, 2016, five months after her death, the autopsy report still has not been released. Reportedly, the Government of Liberia’s position is that the pathologists’ report was “inconclusive”.

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