The Wave of Harassment, Abuse and Extortion Suffered in Cestos, Rivercess County
Press Statement Issued on Aug 7, 2002, by Movement for Democracy and Elections in Liberia (MODEL)
Posted August 9, 2002
Dear Members of the Fourth Estate:
We have invited you here to report on the sting of harassment, intimidation, extortion and abuse that I and the Elections Magistrate of Montserrado, Mr. George Kabakollie, suffered in the hands of the superintendent of Rivercess County, Mr. Benjamin Gee and his security forces during our recent visit to Cestos City to conduct a civic/voter education workshop.
As you may know, the Movement for Democracy and Liberia (MODEL) and the United States Embassy near Monrovia in September of last year signed an agreement for the implementation of a civic/voter education project. USAID’S Monrovia office donated 500 copies of the Liberian constitution to boost the civic education project.
Since then, MODEL has successfully conducted series of workshop in Monrovia, Montserrado, Kakata, Margibi, Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, Greenville City, Sinoe County, teaching grassroots Liberians their basic rights and the Election Law of Liberia.
Our next target was Cestos City. Having scheduled the workshop for Thursday and Friday, August 1 and 2, 2002, we sent as advance team, one of the facilitators, Mr. George Kabakollie on Monday, July 29. Mr. Kabakollie was directed to deliver letters to the local authority, not only informing them of our planned workshop but also inviting them to participate. Mr. Gee was asked to serve as the keynote speaker.
Upon receipt of the letter, the Rivercess Superintendent ordered Mr. Kabakollie arrested, interrogated and jailed. The Security forces proceeded immediately and apprehended Mr. Kabakollie on Wednesday. He as charged with impersonation and security risk. Following the intervention of a few community members, the security put Mr. Kabakollie on parole pending my arrival in Cestos City. But this came after Mr. Kabakollie filed a L$250 bond with the security.
While on parole, Superintendent Gee spotted Mr. Kabakollie and remarked as follows:
“You security men: Why have you not jailed this man. I know this man and his mission. He’s a Charles Brumskim man. Have him jailed until the people who sent him arrive.”
Apparently, the police ignored the superintendent’s order and Mr. Kabakollie remained on parole. Then I arrived on Thursday night and met the story. On Friday morning, we proceeded to the administration building for the purpose of seeing Superintendent Gee on the matter. While sitting in the office of the Development Superintendent, the police sent for Mr. Kabakollie again and we followed. While at the station, I was asked to clarify a number of things ranging from the history of MODEL, its sponsors and the agreement between MODEL and Magistrate Kabakollie.
We submitted ourselves to the intimidation and provided the answers as realistically as possible. Following my interrogation, we were taken to the superintendent who following his own interrogation, ordered us detained until he sought further order from the Executive Mansion and the Ministry of Justice. When we enquired of the charge, the police told us “security risk” and “espionage.”
We languished in common cell from 11:00 a.m. on Friday until 1:30 p.m. Saturday when we were ordered to be put on parole but confined to the care of a local businessman, Mr. Sando Jallah until further order. Mr. Kabakollie and I remained in that sate of confinement from 1:30 p.m. Saturday to 10:15 Sunday when the Police invited us only to inform us that the Superintendent wanted us immediately out of Cestos city and that we leave behind all workshop materials and our personal cash commandeered until we got a clearance from the Government in Monrovia. When we protested that we could not leave Cestos particularly without our cash of $2,710.00, the Police was furious and reported us back to the Superintendent. In response, the superintendent said:
“It is only the shame of Fallah (a local community member) that bless you fellows. Join Security, let the people sign for $800.00, and nothing else. And they must leave now or get lost.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is highly regrettable that this storm of intimidation, harassment, extortion and abuse has taken place and perpetrated by a vice juror of the President when the President was at the same time endeavoring to arrest the issue of abuse and harassment of peaceful citizens in the country. It is regrettable that a county superintendent cannot decipher the work of peaceful Liberians committed to the betterment of Liberia from those who are security risk.
From what we endured and saw in Rivercess, it is likely that Government needs to move swiftly to go beyond mere pronouncement at it relates to the issue of harassment and abuse of citizens, particularly in that enclave of superintendent Gee. Because the situation in that County is serious. For the five days we spent in Cestos, we saw a reminiscence of the heyday of the 1990s when bogus charges and false incrimination caused the death of thousands; when civility gave way to barbarism and willful persecutions; when ruthless commandos dictated every aspect of people’s lives. What we saw in Cestos did not look like a civil administration but one of military rule. We saw a timid and cowered population whose individual sovereignties, rights and dignities seemed surrendered to an autocratic hegemony. We saw a ruler ship, a good command post, during an era of anarchy rather than a civil leadership. We hope the ongoing Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) being promulgated by Government will prioritize Rivercess County.
In closing, we want to request the Government of Liberia, to cause Superintendent Gee to surrender all properties of MODEL in his custody.
Meanwhile, we want to state unequivocally, that MODEL is not perturbed by the actions of Mr. Gee and his forces. For us, we understand our civil education campaign as an intellectual warfare against the forces of ignorance and intolerance, which have bedeviled our common patrimony for decades. We therefore regard the Cestos incidence as counter-offenses by the combined forces of ignorance, illiteracy and intolerance. Instead of weakling us, they have sharpened our resolve to intensify our efforts to reach out with full-scale civic education activities. In other words, though we have fallen into the ambush of the forces of ignorance, illiteracy and intolerance in the heart of Cestos City, thank God we have made a tactical retreat not only to strategize the best methods to educate the people of that county about civility and their rights, but also to propel our engines to reach out to every nook and corner of Liberia with such education.
With that resolve, and with God on our side, we will overall prevail.
I thank you.