As the count-down continues and the clock ticks to June 7, it appears, judging from ongoing developments, that the Government is in panic mode and is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the protest demonstration is called off or quashed through the courts as is being mooted in several quarters.
As the debate continues, the Daily Observer finds its attention drawn to the story carried in its May 30th edition headlined, “Atty. Teh Questions Attempt to Place Stay Order on June 7, Protest”.
According to the story written by Daily Observer Court reporter, Abednego Davies, a legal practitioner and constitutional lawyer, Attorney Kunkunyon Wleh Teh, has questioned Attorney Arthur Johnson’s threat to petition the Supreme Court to place a stay order on the impending June 7 protest, arguing that Arthur Johnson lacks standing to pursue such an action.
The lawyer argues that the right to protest is enshrined in the Constitution of Liberia, Article. 15, 17. He further maintains that several international treaties acceded to and subsequently domesticated by Liberia also contain clear articulations of the right to protest, and one of such is the 1966 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
In keeping with the above, according to the lawyer, the right to protest can be demonstrated through freedom to assemble, freedom to associate and freedom of expression.
The Daily Observer has reliably learnt Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe, currently Justice-in-Chambers, has already summoned the parties to appear before him to give reasons why the ban prayed for should not be placed on the protest. The Daily Observer has also learned that the Council of Patriots (COP), organizers of the planned protests have expressed unwillingness to appear before Justice Nagbe for reasons which are self-evident.
Meanwhile, the COP, according to news reports, have declined to attend a closed-door meeting with the Liberian Senate, hinting that such a closed=door meeting would have conveyed an impression of behind the scenes wheeling and dealing, which they have painstakingly avoided.
Several proposed engagements with the organizers (COP) have so far failed to secure an agreement to call off the protest including those meetings held with the Liberia Council of Churches, ECOWAS, the UN, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for ECOWAS and the SAHEL (UNOWAS) the United States Embassy and others.
Apparently, the outcomes of those meetings, not having not gone the way of the government, have simply served to harden the resolve of the government to remain impervious to demands by the protesters. The stay action sought by Atty. Arthur Johnson, widely perceived to be sponsored, strongly suggests that GoL is being insincere in its dealings with protest organizers.
In the opinion of this newspaper, Atty. Arthur Johnson’s petition to the Supreme Court seeking a stay order on the June 7 protest is malicious and is one whose effects may tend to needlessly push matters to the brink. If the COP declines to show up before Justice -in-Chambers Nagbe, as is being suggested in some quarters, he may issue a writ of contempt on the June protest organizers and if they fail to show up, the next likely action will be to have a writ of arrest issued on them.
The problem is, with the air as charged as it is, any attempt to effect such an arrest could trigger responses and counter responses that could very well trigger violence, which could spiral out of control. In case of such an eventuality, it is doubtful the international community, particularly ECOWAS will be idling and twirling their thumbs while the fire threatens to spread into the sub-region.
Whether President Weah realizes the danger of foolhardy behavior by his supporters is unclear. However, he should bear on mind that an outbreak of violence on June 7 could have dire consequences for the survival of his government. This newspaper holds the view that President Weah and his officials are sending mixed messages to the public which do not augur well for his own self-interest and the preservation of his regime.
On one hand he maintains that Liberians have the right to protest but on the other hand his supporters like former US soldier and Iraq veteran, J Brown are openly threatening violence against June 7 protesters.
In view of this, President Weah needs to send a clear message to all his supporters warning them against any proclivities to mischief and of the consequences they stand to bear in case they let go of themselves and run amok.
The sub-regional body ECOWAS needs to keep a close eye on things lest they go out of hand. That the current political situation is polarized is an understatement. There is just so much at stake here that leaves no room for chance. This newspaper has on several occasions drawn public attention to some student groups, including officials of the Liberia National Student Union, bearing arms in contravention of the law.
Additionally, nocturnal military training on local beaches have been reported on social media with videos showing a large group of men conducting maneuvers under the guidance and instruction of former US soldier and Iraq war veteran, J. Brown, is not anything to take lightly, particularly in view of the tense political atmosphere.
This is a matter that ECOWAS should take seriously. She has paid a heavy sacrifice in precious lives and material resources in Liberia to restore the peace we now enjoy today. We cannot afford to and we must never let their sacrifice go in vain. The June 7 protest will certainly be a challenge for President and may perhaps be the biggest yet in his six-year tenure.
How he handles this will to a large extent define the character of his government. And lest he forgets, the Liberian people will sit in judgment.