Press Statement On the Illegal Detention of 88 Persons in Grand Bassa County

Statement Issued On January 12, 2005


Liberia Democracy Watch (LDW)
Green Advocate
Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FOHRD)
Foundation for International Dignity (FIND)
Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 17, 2005

At dusk on January 10, 2005 the Chairman of the Bassa Concern Citizen Movement, a 12 year old grass-roots and people organization based in Grand Bassa County requested the intervention of Liberian human rights and pro-democracy organizations in the illegal arrest and detention of more than 80 persons. Mr. Gabriel Smith indicated that 88 persons from District No 4 in Grand Bassa County had been arrested including a ten year old boy called Shadrach Banwon. He also pointed out that the arrest took place as local people tried to protest their eviction from their ancestral homeland. During the arrest, carried out by police officers who were apparently dispatched from Monrovia, the protesters were manhandled and had personal belongings including cash and wrist watches were extorted by those who had come to arrest them. Mr. Gabriel Smith narrated this incident to Attorney Alfred Brownell, Executive Director of Green Advocate. Mr. Brownell immediately called his colleagues including Atty Samuel Kofi Woods, II (FIND), Counselor James Verdier (LDW) and Ezekiel Pajibo (CEDE). The four Human Rights and Pro-democracy Advocates immediately to Buchanan to obtain further information.

Upon arrival in Buchanan on January 11, 2005, the delegation headed for the Buchanan Police station, where the detainees were held. The appalling condition under which the detainees were held was easily established. Eleven of the detainees, who were said to be juvenile were held on the first floor of the Police Station without shirts and sitting on the bare floor. They appeared to be clearly hungry, thirsty and dirty. They had not been fed by the authorities since their detention on Monday evening at about 6:00 P.M. The majority of the prisoners were held just before the police station surrounded by barbwires on three side and the front wall of the police station on the fourth side. They looked caged, bewildered, frustrated, deeply humiliated and abusively denigrated by public servants working on behalf of the National Transitional Government of Liberia. There is no doubt in our mind that the pitiable conditions of the detainees constituted torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. We are abhorred that our people could be held in such despicable, horrendous and unacceptable condition and forcefully condemn this blatant and irresponsible abuse of human rights by Government Authorities who should be securing, upholding and protecting the rights of every and all Liberians.

We proceeded to meet the relevant authority to seek further information on the state of the detainee and the condition for the arrest and detention. We were told by an UNMIL Civil Police Officer, Rannie Vick that the local Chief of Police was upstairs. When we approached the information desk which is about 7 feet away from the position where we informed that the Chief of Police was upstairs in the building, we were informed by a civil servant, apparently the Receptionist that "The chief was here all day today he just left to go and get something to eat." Where was he having his lunch was unknown to all of the public servants present at the Buchanan Police Station. We requested to see the Deputy Chief, he too had surreptitiously vanished into thin air. Not a single person in the Buchanan Police Station around 3:00 P.M. on January 11, would say where the Deputy Chief of Police had gone.

Our next port of call was to meet with the County Attorney, Mr. Richard Davies in his office. Mr. Davies told our delegation that he had heard the "news on the air" while in Monrovia. He traveled to Buchanan on January 11 and that up to the time we met with him, the Police had not brought any case to him and he was not in the position to address our concern.

We asked for the local Judge and we were told that he had gone home. We found a dutiful Liberian citizen who knew the house of the Judge and took us to his house. When we got there we were told that the Judge had gone to work and had not yet returned home. All this time, we were attempting to meet local authorities to provide us with the information about the detainees and pursue the necessary legal redress applicable under the circumstances. More importantly we were trying to seek the immediate release of the detainees in the absence of any charges against them and relieve them from the abhorrent conditions under which they were being held.

Upon returning to the Police Station, the Deputy Police Chief fortunately reappeared. Before meeting with the Deputy Chief, we proceeded to meet with the Magistrate to acquire legal means to have the detainees released. The Magistrate pointed to the clock on the wall and said that it was almost time for him to go home. However, he may consider doing what we wanted if we would be responsible for his "over time". During negotiation with the Magistrate, another civil servant believed to be the Messenger and referred to as "Bryant" appeared and whispered into the… ear of the Magistrate who subsequently appeared visibly confused. He got up from his seat and followed Messenger Bryant out of the office. While walking out he shouted at us that he was going "talk to my people". He returned and sheepishly informed us that this was beyond his power. He reasoned that he did not have the "power to tell the Deputy Commander what to do".

We then met with Deputy Commander, Wesseh Bloh-Jay. After intense discussion and negotiation with Deputy Commander, we convinced him about the illegality of the arrest, the deplorable conditions under which the detainees were being kept and the likelihood of increased tension if the detainees were not released. We pointed to him that just outside his window was an increasingly menacing crowd that did not need additional reason to behave in any disorderly action or take other measures that would create difficulty in the City. The Deputy Commander agreed and a surety bond was signed with all the detainees except three persons were released. The three who were not released were said to be the "ringleaders". In actual fact they include the following: J. Barkon Nyannahkpe, Steven Gbarginggar and Johnson Moses, who are actually community and traditional leaders within the Number 4 District of Grand Bassa County.

This morning, January 12, 2005, Counselor Verdier and Attorney Brownell departed Monrovia to represent the detainees before the Court. The human rights advocate will essentially seek to hear charges against the detainee, obtain bonds, if charges are levied and or proceed to seek their permanent release, once charges cannot be adduced. In addition, the various organizations including, Liberia Democracy Watch, Green Advocate, Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy, Foundation for International Dignity and the Center for Democratic Empowerment, are considering to expand on its complaints before the Court related to the forceful eviction of persons from their ancestral homeland by the Liberia Agricultural Corporation in cahoots with the Liberian Government, seek compensation for the destruction of properties including homes and crops by the Liberia Agricultural Company.

More importantly, the various organizations will seek to expand public debate on questions of Land Reform, the misbehavior of corporations in our country, and the questions related to resource management in Liberia.

Thanks for your appearance and we will now take a few questions.

Samuel Kofi Woods II (FIND)
Ezekiel Pajibo (CEDE)
Jerome Verdier (LDW)
Alfred Brownell (Green Advocates)