Aloysius Toe : Another Prisoner of conscience

By Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 27, 2002

Over the last few months, The Government of Liberia has increased its attacks on human rights defenders. In some cases, like mine, no charges have been levied by the Government. In some cases, the Government has levied charges not supported by Liberian law, as in the case of Hassan Bility who the Government declared a soldier and charged with being an "unlawful combatant". The most recent victim of this assault on the human rights community in Liberia is Aloysius Toe, who the Government of Liberia has baselessly charged with treason. However, all Liberians and people who have followed Taylor's rule in Liberia know that Aloysius Toe's only crime is that he is a committed Human rights defender.

Aloysius Toe is a prisoner of conscience because he is in jail, clearly for his recent pronouncements on human rights violations by the Government of Liberia. He is not in jail because he was involved in any criminal act as the Government of Liberia is claiming. It can be recalled that for many months, Aloysius Toe has stepped forward in speaking on the massive abuse of human rights in Liberia. When Hassan Bility, Shiekh Sackor and many Mandingoes were arrested and detained, he spoke out. As spokes-person for the Human Rights Center, the headquarters of a consortium of human rights NGOs, he has been clear, consistent and persistent on human rights violations in Liberia. When Counselor Frances Johnson Morris, Director of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission was arrested by Col. Paul Mulbah, because she questioned the imposition of a state of emergency on the entire country instead of restricting it to areas affected by the on-going civil war, Mr. Toe issued a statement on behalf of the Center condemning the action of the Police Director and calling for his resignation. When I was arrested, Aloysius Toe was among the first group of persons who visited me. Following that visit, Aloysius Toe issued the first press statement on my arrest. It is this timely action taken by Aloysius Toe that got the whole world to hear of my arrest the next morning. By these actions in defense of other people, Aloysius Toe was gradually qualifying as a criminal by Taylor's standard. The Government, through its unreservedly loyal agent Paul Mulbah and others issued threatening remarks against him, but guided by the constitution of Liberia and his conviction he continued to speak out on the deteriorating human rights situation in Liberia.

Early this year, when the Chairman of the New Deal Movement Nigba Wiapla was arrested for speaking out on the political situation in Liberia, Aloysius Toe condemned the police for the method used in arresting the New Deal Chairman. He and four members of the staff of the Human Rights Center were arrested and detained for nearly a week, before they were released following the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus by the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in Montserrado County. On the day of their release, the Government hurriedly obtained writs of arrest for Aloysius Toe and his colleagues from the Monrovia City Court at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia. Aloysius Toe was charged with criminal malevolence and the other four were charged with obstruction of lawful arrest. Under Liberian law, both offenses are billable; therefore, Aloysius Toe and his colleagues were released on bail.

While on bail, Aloysius Toe continued to do human rights work without fear. After persistent calls by the Human Rights Center and many local and international NGOs for the release of Bility and others as well as the failure of the Government to obey several writs of habeas corpus issued by various courts for the release of Hassan and others, there seemed to have been nothing left to be done by civil society.

Consequently, there was a lull in the momentum of efforts for the release of Bility and others. It appeared then, that people had given up hope for the release of Hassan and others. At this point, Aloysius Toe and his colleagues of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders embarked upon a week of a series of peaceful actions for the release of Hassan Bility and others, beginning with a prayer service and ending with the presentation of a petition to President Taylor. However, in order to prevent the presentation of petition to him by Mr. Toe and his colleagues, President Taylor ordered the arrest of Toe and his colleagues.

From all indications, Toe was the real target of the arrest order, given that, by his previous record, he was perceived as the brain behind these non-violent actions for the release of Bility and his colleagues. Therefore, the Government decided to charge him with a non-billable offense as a way of getting him out of the scene for a long period. Consequently, the Government of Liberia reverted to its new source of crime against the state: the e-mail.

As in the Bility case, the Ministries of Information and Justice accused Aloysius Toe of receiving e-mail from LURD. However, unlike Hassan who has been in jail since June without being formally charged, Aloysius was immediately taken before the Monrovia City Court, charged with treason, and sent to prison. In addition, unlike Bility, Aloysius can be visited and has the opportunity of be tried by a court of competent jurisdiction and being represented by a lawyer of his choice. Further, unlike Hassan, Aloysius could be admitted to bail by Judge Boima Kontoe, the presiding judge of Criminal Court "A", the court to which his case has been transferred.

Under Liberian law, a judge may release on bail a defendant charged with a capital offense, if he finds that proof is not evident and presumption great that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged. Therefore, in the Aloysius Toe case, if the judge fearlessly follows the law, he could be released on bail. Certainly, if e-mail, allegedly from LURD, is the only evidence that the Government of Liberia is relying on to produce in court, then proof is not evident that the crime of treason was committed by Aloysius Toe. In that case, the only thing the court can do to rescue its integrity is to release Aloysius Toe on bail. In fact, under the criminal procedure law of Liberia, a judge can dismiss an unmeritorious case even without a motion to dismiss from the defense. Will the court follow the law and release Aloysius Toe from further detention as well as dismiss the treason case against him? From my recent experience in Liberian courts, I am not optimistic.

The arrest of Hassan Bility, Aloysius Toe and other human rights defenders has nothing to do with crime. The lawyers serving in the government of Liberia know that Hassan Bility, Aloysius Toe and the others in jail are there because the President wants them there. I remember the case of Alex Redd who was charged with attempted treason in 1997 and James Torh, charged with sedition in the year 2000. The President wants to silence all critical voices in Liberia before the ensuing general and presidential elections. The idea is to rig the elections far ahead of Election Day. In that respect, the Taylor Government started rigging the 2003 elections since 1997 by adopting a governing process that violates the constitution of Liberia. For instance, since 1997, the Taylor administration has been engaged in the systematic violation of the rights of the Liberian people, the blatant disregard for the rule of law and the failure to govern Liberia in accordance with the general principles of national policy as enshrined in the constitution of Liberia.

Although President Taylor was legitimately elected, he has illetigimized his government by illegitimizing the process of governance. This process of governance makes every citizen and resident a potential prisoner or victim of abuse because it operates on perception, not fact. Worst still, is that this perception is not based on rational thinking. Hassan Bility, Aloysius Toe and others in detention are the latest victims of this process. For example, while the Government of Liberia is holding Hassan Bility in detention for alleged e-mail communication with LURD, it has, on a number of occasions, released several persons that it told the public were prisoners of war, allegedly arrested from the battlefront, while fighting for LURD. Also Aloysius Toe has been charged with treason for an email, which according to information received from Liberia is the email containing LURD's proposal for peace that was published on various websites by LURD. If this information is true then the Government's action is absurd because LURD's proposal for peace a public document that was sent to many institutions and opinion leaders in and out of Liberia. Here, again is an evidence of the illegal path of governance the Taylor Government has chosen to govern Liberia.

In the illegitimate governing process adopted by the Liberian Government, student leaders, journalists, politicians, human rights advocates and lawyers have fallen victim. It appears that the time has come for religious leaders, with the current verbal attacks on Arch-Bishop Michael K.Francis of the Catholic Church. Well, the President has failed to keep his promise on respect for human rights and the rule of law and it appears that the time has come for the Liberian people to find out whether he is truly a God-fearing Christian as he has always told them. What do Liberian Christians now think of their once acclaimed God- fearing Christian, now that he has publicly pronounced that he is a polygamist?

The only way to stop a negative trend that Liberia is taking is for Liberians to act collectively to rescue the situation. If the Liberian people stand up and say enough is enough, the Government will be compelled to listen. No government is more powerful than the people over whom it governs. Until the Liberian people can decide to collectively use the power they have, there will be more Hassan Bilities and Aloysius Toes, unfortunately. Therefore, instead of showing sympathy for these detainees, Liberians should unanimously instruct the Government of Liberia to release Aloysius Toe and the other prisoners of conscience and stop further human rights violations. History has proven people's power in the Philippines, Romania, Indonesia Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and many other places. In union strong, success is sure, we cannot fail.

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