Press Conference By Liberia Coalition Of Human Rights Defenders
March 29, 2002
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen and members of the Press, We wish to welcome you here this afternoon in the name of all human rights defenders in Liberia.
1) Some of you may be aware of recent events of the last few days, which is the arrest of human rights and peace advocates. The purpose of calling you here today, on the day that we commemorate the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, is to tell the world that SOME OF OUR DEAR COLLEAGUES OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CENTRE OF LIBERIA have been arrested by the Liberian government and are languishing in jail.
We are here today because, at about mid-day yesterday Thursday March 28, 2002, we were shocked to hear that the Liberian National Police ARRESTED AND SUBSEQUENTLY DETAINED FIVE STAFF MEMBERS of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CENTRE OF LIBERIA. The National Human Rights Center of Liberia is a consortium of 9 human rights institutions. The FIVE STAFF were picked up at the offices of the National Human Rights Center of Liberia by a large group of armed policemen who stormed the offices of the Center and arrested everybody who was in sight.
It is interesting to point out that the arresting officers had no warrant of arrest for anybody at the offices of the National Human Rights Center of Liberia. Therefore, they were simply arresting anybody on sight. This is a very dangerous development in this country, especially, because even strangers and visitors in the office could have been arrested by the police action of yesterday.
2) Those arrested include MR.J. ALOYSIUS TOE (Project Officer), MRS. TUNNY ZEOGAR (Administrative Secretary) MR. PETER NICKOSON (Office Assistant), MR. JOHN OKAI (Dispatcher) and MR. SAM NIMELY, (Senior Field Monitor).
Despite efforts by numerous human rights organizations and our lawyers to secure their release and to seek an explanation or to have them charged to COURT of COMPETENT JURISDICTION, the police have declined. All those arrested yesterday remain in detention in the cells of the Central Police Station in Monrovia up to the present time.
3) Today the police have denied all visits to the FIVE STAFF MEMBERS in police custody. Indeed, even the appointed lawyers have been denied access. We therefore fear for their safety.
4) Up to today, the police have not provided any official reason for the arrest of the FIVE STAFF MEMBERS. This is a blatant violation of Article 21 (c) of the Liberian Constitution, which states that:
"Every person suspected or accused of committing a crime shall immediately upon arrest be informed in detail about the charges, of the right to remain silent and of the fact that any statement made could be used against them in a court of law. Such person shall be entitled to counsel at every stage of the investigation and shall have the right not to be interrogated except in the presence of counsel. Admission of any statements made in the absence of such counsel shall be deemed inadmissible as evidence in a court of law"
We can only conclude that the police action is part of a bigger plot of the government to INTIMIDATE, HARASS, THREATEN, FRIGHTEN and BRUTALISE the human rights community into silence.
Why do we make such conclusion? This conclusion is based on the recent chain of events, especially since last year September, when Mr. Thompson Adebayor (of Liberia Watch for Human Rights) and his wife and three year old child were arrested, detained, tortured and intimidated. They were later set free because they had committed no offence and there was no charge against them.
5) In December 2001, the police killed two peaceful students and brutalized many other ordinary people who peacefully protested against the police murders and brutalities. The alleged murderer, the dismissed former Bong County police Commander Isaac Railey and others have not been brought to justice.
Paradoxically, it is the students, families of the murdered student and campaigners for justice in Gbarnga who are facing police harassment.
6) Immediately after the President declared the state of emergency on February 8, 2002, the Minister of Information (Mr. Reginald Goodridge) came out publicly to threaten human rights organizations not to make any public statements or face severe consequences. We of the human rights community challenged this arbitrary attitude of the Ministry because it was against the constitutional provisions under any state of emergency.
7) Just a few weeks ago the Minister of Justice (Cllr. Eddington Varmah) also issued unspecified threats to the human rights and pro-democracy organizations about making any critical remarks during the state of emergency. The Minister was reminded of the constitutional provision and he made no further attempts to substantiate his positions.
8) Again just a few weeks ago, on February 22nd this year, the Executive Director of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Counselor Frances Johnson-Morris who is a former Chief Justice of Liberia was arrested, stripped of her wearing and thrown into a cell of hardened male criminals. Her arrest was personally carried out by the Director of the Liberia National Police, Paul Mulbah. You will recall that just a few hours after the arrest, with pressure building on the government to charge her or release her, the Police Director released her and claimed that this was a case of mistaken identity!
It is difficult to imagine how the whole Police Director can mistakenly arrest the former Chief Justice of the Republic of Liberia!!
9) Now, let us come back to the arrests of FIVE STAFF members of the National Human rights Center of Liberia. Even though the police have not provided any reasons for the arrest of the FIVE STAFF members the interrogation of these victims appear to suggest the following:
a. That on Wednesday March 27, 2002, the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights (MODHAR) issued a statement condemning the arrest and detention of Mr. Nigba Wiaplah (the Acting National Chairman of the New DEAL Movement). Mr. Wiaplah had earlier made press comments condemning the war and calling for the government and rebel LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) to stop fighting and make peace.
Many people are asking why should the government arrest and detain Mr. Wiaplah for condemning the war and asking for negotiations when the same government just attended the Abuja Conference, last week, to discuss proposals for making peace and stopping the war??
b. It appears that the police came to arrest Aloysius Toe (who is also the Acting Executive Director of the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights, MODHAR) because he signed the MODHAR statement, which condemned the arrest and detention of Mr. Wiaplah.
Again, many people are asking whether it is a crime in Liberia to ask the government to stop arresting those people, like Aloysius Toe and Nigba Wiaplah, who are calling for peace and reconciliation??
Again, people are asking why are some officials of the government trying to sabotage the efforts of the President for peace and reconciliation when the President has sponsored a week of prayer for peace and reconciliation. The President has even sponsored 3 days of non-stop prayer mass at the Samuel Kanya Doe sports complex and recently released many political prisoners.
So why are these officials still ordering the arrest people who are also calling for the same peace and reconciliation???
c. In the morning of Thursday March 28, 2002 the same police had gone to the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) and arrested a staff member called Augustine Toe for questioning. He was arrested without a warrant and released yesterday without apology or explanation.
We want to ask for an official explanation. Or, is this another case of mistaken identity?? For us of the human rights community, we see this as a clear strategy of harassment and intimidation, which cannot solve the problem of peace in Liberia.
a)The pattern of arrests, detentions and official pronouncements by Ministers of the government suggest that the government is determined to brutally clamp down on any open, public and honest discussion of the crisis confronting Liberia. Clearly, this is not good for democracy or human rights in Liberia.
b) We of the Liberia coalition of Human Rights Defenders wish to state emphatically that we stand for justice, peace, open democracy, national reconciliation and human rights, which are pre-conditions for national development and happiness.
Therefore, we resolve as follows:
-we condemn the arrest and detention of the FIVE STAFF members of the National Human rights Center of Liberia
-we call on the government to immediately and unconditionally release the FIVE STAFF members of National Human Rights Center of Liberia who were arrested and detained yesterday
-we condemn the arrest and detention of Mr. Nigba Wiaplah whose only fault is that he is calling for peace and an end to the current senseless war and we call for his immediate and unconditional release
-we equally condemn the arrest, detention, killing, brutalities, harassment and intimidation of IDPs, many ordinary citizens and residents of Liberia in the past weeks since the state of emergency.
-we strongly advise the police that if they continue with this level of brutality in the country they run the risk of condemning Liberia to a land of permanent conflict
-we call on the government and President of Liberia to intervene and stop officials who are bent on sabotaging his efforts at national reconciliation under the pretext of being loyalists.
-we call on the President to intervene and stop the arrests, detention, harassment and intimidation of human rights advocates, activists and institutions by police and security forces, as these acts are calculated to tarnish the reputation of the government both at home and abroad.
d) Finally, we strongly advise the government that genuine PEACE and NATIONAL RECONCILIATION cannot be achieved when it continues to arrest the ordinary peaceful people and detain human rights advocates who are the AMBASSADORS of peace, national reconciliation, democracy and human rights.
We want the government and all political forces in Liberia to remember the motto of this dear nation, which is:
"THE LOVE OF LIBERTY BROUGH US HERE"
As ambassadors of human rights and peace, we extend our hand of PEACE to the government and want the government to work with us and to SHOW by DEEDS and not just by empty WORDS that it is serious about peace and national reconciliation.
As we remember the death of Jesus Christ today, let us remember that
Jesus died for peace and human rights.
Thank you and God Bless.
FOR AND ON BEHALF OF:
Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders
1. MOVEMENT FOR THE DEFENCE OF HUMAN RIGHTS(MODHAR)
2. CENTER FOR THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (CPHR)
3. FORE-RUNNERS OF CHILDREN UNIVERSAL RIGHTS, GROWTH & DEV. (FOCUS)
4. ASSOCIATION OF FEMALE LAWYERS OF LIBERIA (AFELL)
5. CIVIL RIGHTS ASSOCIATION OF LIBERIAN LAWYERS (CALL)
6. LIBERIA DEMOCRACY WATCH (LDW)
7. UNITED METHODIST HUMAN RIGHTS MONITOR (MONITOR)
8. LIBERIA CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS ALLIANCE (ALLIANCE)
9. CATHOLIC JUSTICE AND PEACE COMMISSION (JPC)
10. CENTER FOR LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS EDUCATION (CLHRE)
11. RURAL HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS PROGRAMME (RHAP)
12. LIBERIA HUMAN RIGHTS OBSERVERS (LHRO)
13. COMMITTEE FOR PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT ADVOCACY (COPDA)
14. LIBERIA PRISON WATCH (LIPWA)
15. CENTER FOR SUSTAINABLE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT (CESHUD)
16. RESEARCH AND DOCUMENTATION CENTER ON HUMAN RIGHTS (RDCHR)
17. LIBERIA WATCH FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (LWHR)
18.HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH/WOMEN AND CHILDREN
19. NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CENTER OF LIBERIA
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