The Price of Freedom: Renewing Courage and Conscience

By James Torh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 3, 2002

Freedom is sweat, tears and blood. Indeed, history is replete and continues to repeat itself in a cause of a struggle to redeem one's nation and people. When men and women brush aside the fear for personal safety, ready to pay a price for human dignity and discover strength by confronting evil and say "NO MORE", swift victory is certain to be won. When men and women who live by the power of inward moral conviction, and are not under bondage to outward restrictions; energy is bond to release that conquer's evil.

This article is a testimony of my effort to deepen the understanding of our readers and as a medium to express my respect, pay tribute to and applaud the Liberian Human Rights Community that has paid, and continues to pay, a thankless price for raising an active voice against the evil and human rights tragedy that is consuming our country and its people. The Liberian Human Rights Activists with firm sense of social responsibility who are compelled by international standards to call the Government of Liberia to judgment for its horrible human rights violations, and change its policies and implement good governance, have suffered severe punishment under the regime of Charles Taylor.

Instead of giving respectability to these national heroes of conscience for their service to humanity, they are imprisoned and charged with bogus crimes, tortured and forced to leave the country for fear of their lives.

These unplanned departures of the lucky ones have proven too bitter a pill to swallow. These faint-hearted, spirited and dashing young men and women whose struggle and crusade for the respect of human dignity and the rule of law are made to suffer because of their commitment to protecting the rights of the people. Taylor sanctions these inhumane acts and his loyal disciples have destroyed the souls and hope of these courageous people for trying to save their beloved country. Yes, their escape has destroyed families, as some were breadwinners for their families, leaving what they have worked for and owned.

In this vein, we pray for our colleagues back home who in the face of growing threats continue to speak out and face persecution at the hands of the government's insane security men, who are graduates of the school of death and holding the sword in their hands waiting for order from their supreme commander to persecute and execute human rights defenders. These mass murderers and high-core sadists and their chief have considered human rights defenders (moral crusaders), as troublemakers and enemies of the state. What a pity!

I write from experience. I was there and felt the pains and wrath of these mass murderers. I experienced the cruel hands of torture administered by these tugs. They told me "who do you think you are - we will skin you death". I was stripped naked at the police headquarters and one of the officers with "muscled jacket dealt" with me. He kicked me with his booth while he escorted me into the cell. I was pushed into the inner room among the high-core criminals. I shivered, hating the environment, hating the tightness in my throat and told myself not to cry. I tried to be brave to cope with my new environment, but raindrop-sized tears rolled down my cheeks. I got angry with myself for behaving like a child and used the back of my hand to stifle my tears.

In my hour of contemplation, I was greeted by one of the prisoners with "welcome to our den and be a man". While grief is normal and natural, clearly the most powerful of all emotions, it is also the most neglected and misunderstood experience, often by both the griever and those around him. I was weeping because a nasty man, a drug addict was torturing me - kicking and hitting me all over my body because I was part of the voices that echoed loud and clear, telling the angels of terror and death, men who engaged in relentless campaign of anarchy and bloody games that this thing is wrong. This thing must stop! That was a price for standing up for what is morally right and trying to secure justice for our people.

The irony and saddest fact of it all is, the engagement role played by Liberian politicians during this horrible situation in Liberia. Politicians that should be vocal on these ills in our society, sit in the corner mute - watching these demons displaying their cruelty, they wait on elections' timetable. It is indeed an unpardonable sin for these political leaders to not condemn or criticize Taylor and his followers. These crude and murderous politics in our country will have to STOP.

However, I salute and pay tribute to the Human Rights defenders in Liberia and encourage them to continue because they are our only hope in these darkest hours in our country. Their relentless crusade and commitment to be the voice that continues to speak on behalf of our people. The facts remain that we are part of the whole (society) and as such, we cannot seek personal comfort within the context of threatening national disasters. When we allow the fear and uncertainty of our security to isolate us from looming threat only would we suffer personal loss and jeopardize the peace of our families and the larger society. Failure to stand for what is morally right is the prelude to becoming a victim of what is criminally wrong.

Though, you expose yourself to danger in honoring your conscience for a noble and humble cause, it is worth bearing in mind that you represent courage, strength, suffering and sacrifice- the courage of conviction, strength of character, suffering for rights and sacrifice of life. Those who carry sinister agenda and whose conscience and influence are designed to blight the soul of a nation and its people, and who are purveyors of terror, sow seeds of anarchy are always on the wrong side of history. But your faith, moral conviction and willing commitment to answer the call of duty, brings fore the reality that, indeed, you are a catalyst of change for a better Liberia.

And in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, "history will be kind to me because I intend to write it". And that is true we write our own history and eulogy through the choices we make and the consequences they leave us and future generations. Based on this reasoning, when we are true to our conscience, and work to bring relief in the lives of our people and our neighbors to experience peace, then satisfaction is guaranteed. To this effect, I say Bravo to the Liberian Human Rights Defenders!

About the author: James Torh is a Liberian human rights activist. He was arrested for criticizing President Charles Taylor's Government, and was charged with treason. Mr. Torh subsequently escaped from the country and now lives in exile.

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