To: Her Excellency,
Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf,
President, Republic of Liberia
Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
July 18, 2016
From: Johnetta Zoe Tolbert
Dear Madam President:
Despite my poor health I have flown all the way from my home in Finland where I have resided for the past 12 years to appeal to you as a fellow mother (and grandmother) for the URGENT release of my son, Lieutenant Melvin Kolleh Tolbert.
As you were no doubt made aware when you visited the EBK Barracks (Camp Shiefflin) in July 2016 my son Lt. Melvin Tolbert has been in military detention for over 50 days since May 31, 2016 on the charge of “desertion” from the Armed Forces of Liberia.
After over 10 years of exemplary service in the Armed Forces of Liberia (from 2006-2016), where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant and trained hundreds of Liberian soldiers as a Senior Training Officer, my son formally informed the military authorities on numerous occasions in writing at the end of his 5 year contract term since 2011 that he wished to retire from the Armed Forces of Liberia.
Unlike hundreds of his other military comrades who simply walked away from the army (and have not been pursued like Melvin) Melvin continued to try to serve his country as he appealed for formal permission to leave the army. Finally, in April of this year, and after over 10 years of dedicated service and increasing suffering from a medical injury he suffered while on active duty, Melvin informed the military authorities once again in writing that he was leaving and turned over all his military paraphernalia back to the army.
Over a month later on May 31, 2016, 4 military personnel in an unmarked vehicle went to his home at night and dragged him away with no explanation to his family and brutalizing his aged mother-in-law in the process.
He was taken to the EBK Barracks at Camp Schiefflin where he was held in horrible conditions in a container-like cell for over 2 weeks without a charge, a complete violation of basic human rights in a democratic country, until his family started the legal process to file a writ of “habeas corpus”. Although the Armed Forces of Liberia have no competent court of Military Justice, as soon as Melvin’s family began legal proceedings the army hastily convened an ad-hoc “military tribunal” that charged and sentenced Melvin to 100 days in detention for “desertion” WITHOUT GIVING HIM A CHANCE TO EVEN APPEAR TO DEFEND HIMSELF.
Madam President, is this the Liberia you wish to show to the world in 2016?
Madam President, isn’t this the kind of undemocratic injustice you fought against all your life?
Madam President, were you yourself not a victim of this same kind of “kangaroo justice” in your lifetime?
Madam President, isn’t this the same young man you decorated for bravery on Armed Forces day 2010 after he saved the life of fellow soldiers during a live-grenade training exercise? (For which my son still suffers wounds in his legs and should have received a medical discharge!)
Madam President, is this a good example for other young men wanting to join the Armed Forces of Liberia – an Army you can get into but cannot get out of?
And finally Madam President, put yourself in my shoes and ask yourself what would you do if one of your sons was being treated in this patently unfair and unjust manner?
Madam President, I am 63 years old and not in good health suffering from diabetes and hypertension and I experienced all the horrors of Liberia from the coup of 1980 to the civil wars that ended in 2003. Now in the declining years of my life when we thought all was well in our homeland Liberia, I never expected to experience this kind of heartbreak.
So Madam President as a Mother of our nation and Champion of Human Rights, I am appealing to you from my bleeding heart as one mother to another to have my son Lieutenant Melvin Kolleh Tolbert released immediately and allowed to leave the army, which he has served so well with a full honorable discharge.