State of Emergency "Not Necessary", Says Opposition Leader

The Perspective

February 14, 2002

Since President Taylor imposed a State of Emergency in Liberia on February 8, 2002, there have been increasing concerns especially within the civil society, that the war in Lofa County currently being waged between the dissident group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy(LURD), and forces of the Liberia government is simply a pretext being used by the Taylor regime to undermine the pending 2003 elections and to further curtail the civil liberties of the Liberian people. Recent developments and actions by the government clearly reinforce what many already believe is the real motive of the government.

Just yesterday it was reported that the Analyst newspaper, an independent daily was shut down on grounds that it was publishing "anti-government" stories. Some of its editors were also jailed but later released as a result of international and mass pressure. Mr. Paul Mulbah, the National Police Director, personally carried out this exercise. In his own words, he said the articles published by the Analyst were "not out for peace" and "poisoned the minds of the people."

But if this were intended to silence critics of the government's action, it appears to be producing an opposite reaction. A leading Liberian opposition politician, Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, of the Liberian People's Party (LPP) has said that the state of emergency "is not necessary", arguing that the country was already in an emergency situation "in terms of the suffering of the people." Dr. Tipoteh made these remarks on the BBC Network Africa program yesterday in an interview.

When asked if he was worried that the state of emergency could be used to suppress the opposition leaders or silence them, Dr. Tipoteh responded:

"...Actually, I wish the president had called some consultation of the civil society leaders including the political party leaders prior to his declaration of the state of emergency. He didn't do that so it became necessary for me to say publicly that I don't think that there's a need for a state of emergency. And my reason is this: we already have in the country an emergency situation in terms of the suffering of the people, especially people from Lofa County, who have been faced with armed hostilities. And the main thing to do now is to engage those who say that they are fighting against the government immediately in talks. All of these hostilities can stop at the conference table. So we've been urging government to engage in immediate talks. ECOWAS has indicated its willingness to sponsor these talks in Abuja and it is left for the government to say: yes, we are ready to go now. And this is what we are supporting and this is why we think that the state of emergency is not necessary.

"I am worried because for quite some time now, over three months now, the chairman of the ruling party has been pushing for the state of emergency. And also, he has been referring to the arm hostilities and sanctions on individuals preventing them from foreign travel- about 130 or so individuals, holding these as factors for elections not to be held in 2003. And So already he has developed some pretext, and this apparently has some impact on the position of the government to the point where the government is taking the position of declaration of the state of emergency. So we are indeed worried. [It is] a way of not having elections. And when we do not have elections, particularly free and fair elections in this country, we know that the country will be headed for far more disastrous situation than that which obtained in the civil war."

Appearing more concerned and emboldened by the fate of the Liberian people, than by any fear of government in lieu of personal repercussions one might endure from the high-handedness of the government for voicing concern on its actions, Dr. Tipoteh said:

"Well, I have spoken about the state of emergency. And so far I have not been approached by any arm of government, to try to curtail what I am doing. I also have heard from government, the president particularly, that our civil liberties are still intact - particularly the right of habeas corpus. So, we are encouraged by this. But, let it be known that, you know in the Liberian context, we have a very powerful presidency... So, there are lots of things that can be done without a state of emergency."

Meanwhile, members of the United Nations Security Council, in a statement issued yesterday, "called upon the Government of Liberia to take effective actions to respect human rights and the safety of civilians, particularly the most vulnerable, and also to secure access for relief workers and humanitarian agencies. Likewise, they called on armed insurgents to respect human life, particularly the life of those trapped by the conflict. The members of the Council called on President Taylor to honour his pledge not to use the declaration of a state of emergency to curtail civil liberties in Liberia."

The statement further noted, "Members of the Council expressed their support to the Secretary-General's recent appeal, by calling on all Liberians to resolve their differences through dialogue and not through violence. In the light of the necessary regional understanding that must exist in favour of peace, they also welcomed early reports that the Presidents of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, of the Mano River Union, may meet soon."

In another development, the government has reintroduced the "Exit Visa", which every citizen is now required to obtain before departing the country. Popularly used by the erstwhile Doe regime in the eighties to monitor the movement of citizens, it was abolished by the Sawyer's Interim Government, having being viewed as an infringement on citizens' freedom and right to travel. It is being reported today that President Taylor has "relaxed" this decision, though it not clear precisely what that means.

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