Staff of Pro-Democracy Group Arrested and Detained In Rivercess, Liberia

By Nat Galarea Gbessagee

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 9, 2002

A staff of the Monrovia-based Movement for Democracy and Elections in Liberia (MODEL), and a government elections magistrate were arrested and detained in Rivercess County, Liberia recently upon orders of County Superintendent Benjamin Gee while attempting to conduct a civil and voters education workshop on the constitution and elections laws of Liberia, visiting MODEL Executive Director K. Hasting Panyonnoh told The Perspective via telephone interview from Washington, DC August 8.

Mr. Panyonnoh said MODEL Program Officer Sherman C. Seequeh and Mr. George Kabakollie, Elections Magistrate of Montserrado County for the Liberian National Elections Commission (ECOM), and MODEL Facilitator for the Rivercess Workshop, were arrested and detained for nearly two days before being released, and their workshop materials and funds, including copies of the Liberian Constitution and cash totaling some $2,700 Liberian dollars were confiscated by the authorities.

Panyonnoh also emailed to The Perspective a copy of a press statement which he said was delivered by MODEL Program Officer, Mr. Sherman C. Seequeh at a press conference in Monrovia August 8, to draw public attention to what he said was the “wave of harassment, abuse and extortion suffered in Cestos, Rivercess County”, and to protest to the Liberian authorities about such unnecessary harassment in the face of the government’s professed desire for national reconciliation, peace, unity and democracy in Liberia .

The press release alleged that on July 29, Elections Magistrate Kabakollie traveled to Cestos City, Rivercess County with a letter for Superintendent Gee and the Rivercess County authorities informing them of the impending visit to the County by MODEL for the purpose of conducting a voters education workshop on the Liberian Constitution and Elections Laws in Cestos City from August 1-2, along with a specific request for the superintendent to give opening remarks at the workshop.

“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 was charged with impersonation and security risk. Following the intervention of a few community members, the security put Mr. Kabakollie on parole pending my (Seequeh’s) 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 Brumskine man. Have him jailed until the people who sent him arrive’”, the MODEL press statement said.

“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”, the press statement quoted Seequeh as saying.

“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 state 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,” the release further quoted Seequeh as saying.

Magistrate Kabakollie and Program Officer Seequeh were not physically abused or molested during the prison ordeal, but got back from the security forces in Rivercess County only $800 of the $2710 cash confiscated, while the voters education workshop materials were not returned, MODEL Executive Director Panyannoh said in the interview with the Perspective.

Charles W. Brumskine
In reference to Superintendent’s Gee allegation that Elections Magistrate Kabakollie was a Brumskine sympathizer, Panyonnoh said he was not aware if Mr. Kabakollie had any affiliation with Mr. Charles Brumskine, the vocal former President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate in the NPP-led government of President Charles Taylor and now a U.S.-based exiled opposition politician and presidential aspirant for the scheduled 2003 General Elections in Liberia. But said as far as he knew, MODEL is not affiliated with any political party or politician in Liberia.

“MODEL is non-partisan and non-political. We are a pro-democracy group committed to educating the Liberian people about their constitutional rights under the Liberian Constitution, and the Liberian elections laws and procedures to ensure their active and maximum participation in any elections in Liberia”, Panyannoh said.

Panyonnoh disclosed that the Rivercess County civil and voters education workshop in question is part of nation-wide civil and voter education campaign by MODEL, facilitated by a grant from the U.S. State Department through the U.S. Embassy near Monrovia, to educate grass root Liberians about their basic civil and constitutional rights and obligations, as well as the country’s electoral laws and guidelines. He said MODEL has successfully conducted a series of similar workshops in Monrovia, Montserrado County, Kakata, Margibi County, Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, and Greenville, Sinoe in the last few months without incident.

Panyonnoh said the Rivercess incident will not deter MODEL from carrying out its obligation to the Liberian people, and said MODEL hopes to resume its nationwide civil and voter education workshop beginning in Rivercess as soon as the dust settles before visiting other counties on its schedule.

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