The open spat between Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and the President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) over whether there were political prisoners in Liberia in 1979 during the administration of the late President Tolbert has claimed public attention and has become the subject of public debate in many circles, both private and public.
The Chief Justice, claiming that he had been accused by unnamed individuals that while serving as Research Coordinator at the Bureau of Corrections, Ministry of Justice, in 1979, he was involved in the torture of political prisoners has dismissed the accusations as untrue and intended to injure his reputation.
Although the Chief Justice admitted that the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews, Oscar Quiah and River Gee County Senator, Conmany B. Wesseh were arrested after the April 14, 1979 “Rice Riots” in Monrovia, he maintained that they were not political prisoners, adding that later they were granted executive clemency by President Tolbert.
In further attempts to justify his claims, Chief Justice Korkpor said he remembered only that a group of people from Maryland County including, Anderson, Yancy, Nyenpan and Taryonoh were arrested, imprisoned and convicted for ritualistic killings.
They were later publicly executed but they were never political prisoners, the Chief Justice said repeating his claims that there were no political prisoners during the Tolbert Administration including those arrested, jailed and charged with treason in the aftermath of the 1979 “Rice Riots”.
But speaking to the Daily Observer, a former “Rice Riots” detainee and one of those charged with treason (name withheld) has dismissed Chief Justice Korkpor’s claims as untrue.
The former detainee explained that he, along with Samuel Jackson, Conmany Wesseh Bacchus Matthews, etc. were declared wanted men by the Tolbert Government and that their names and photos were placed on Wanted Posters for US$5,000.00 as the individuals who caused the death of the more than 150 persons who lost their lives at the hands of state security forces on April 14, 1979.
He furthered that he was detained at the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP) and placed in a cell for convicted murderers along with Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, James Fromayan, David Karn Karlor, Oscar Quiah, Samuel Jackson and others.
Explaining further, the former detainee said that during the period of his incarceration at the MCP from April 22, 1979 to June 26, 1979, Chief Justice was then serving as Chief of Security and Chief Warden at the Prison.
He had several Corrections Officers under his command, two of which today, are currently practicing lawyers, and they are Augustine Toe and J. Nagbe.
Amongst the Corrections Officers, according to the former detainee, was a young man named Kyne who had the knack of prodding detainees and administering electric shocks with an electric baton (stun gun).
And this happened many times in the presence of Chief Warden Francis Korkpor who never lifted a finger of reprimand against him.
The former detainee also recalled that officers Augustine Toe and Nagbe’s display of empathy towards them often irked then Chief Warden Korkpor to the point where he would order them to oust visitors from the MCP compound before the end of official visiting hours.
Recalling further, the former detainee also revealed that, during that period, the MCP was choked and filled with detainees who had been randomly arrested from around the country. Amongst such individuals was the late Cllrs. Francis Garlawolu and Flawgaa McFarland.
Because of space problems, many of those individuals were locked up in filthy and overcrowded conditions in the notorious and filthy cell known as 4-B, according to the former detainee.
Just how come the Chief Justice does not appear to remember these events was the rhetorical question posed by the former detainee when he declared the Chief Justice (Korkpor) was one of the major actors at the MCP at the time.
The Daily Observer, researching the issue has found out that the Brownell Commission was set up by President Tolbert in the wake of April 14, 1979, “Rice Riots” to probe actual causes of the disturbances and make recommendations to the Government of Liberia.
The Commission, headed by the late Justice Nete Sie Brownell, was composed of distinguished Liberians including former President Sirleaf. That body had determined that GoL was to be held responsible for the disturbances.
It further recommended that as a consequence, all those arrested and detained in connection with the disturbances of April 14, 1979, be granted unconditional General Amnesty.
And delivering an official speech before the National Legislature on June 26, 1979, President Tolbert proclaimed and declared an immediate and unconditional general amnesty and ordered the release of all persons/individuals detained in connection to the 1979 disturbances otherwise known as the “Rice Riots”.
These are what this newspaper would call antecedents in Liberia’s political and legal history.
And for a Chief Justice, especially one who was in one way or the other connected to those tragic historical events of 1979, to feign or claim ignorance not only appears truly disingenuous and indistinguishable from outright lies but also a deliberate attempt to either falsify or provide a revisionist version of history.
Perhaps it may interest Chief Justice Korkpor to know that on April 14, 1979, the founder of the Daily Observer Kenneth Y. Best was also a witness to history as far as some of the developments surrounding April 14, 1979 are concerned.
Mr. Best was the installing officer and guest speaker at the reorganization Congress of the Liberia National Student Union, which was held at the Cuttington University Campus on that fateful day of April 14, 1979.
A common Liberian saying goes, a liar always says “my witness is too far”. In the case referenced, there are living witnesses to the events of 1979 including former detainees and they are not far and beyond reach.
Perhaps the Chief Justice needs to tell the Liberian people where his witnesses are, hoping that they are neither out of reach, nor too far away to come to his defense.Tell the People the Truth, Mr. Chief Justice. It is your only Defense!