Why I Escaped Taylor's Justice
By James D. Torh
August 29, 2000
The author is a human rights activist who was arrested for criticizing President Charles Taylor's Government, and was charged with treason. He subsequently escaped from the country and now lives in exile.
It was on Thursday evening the 23rd of March 2000 at about 8:10 p.m. when I received this startling and frightful information. "My man, the Papay (President Taylor) wants to get rid of you. You are my friend and I can't let you perish for the sake of foolishness. There is US$10,000.00 (ten thousands United State dollars) available for your head."
This revelation from a colleague at the University of Liberia serving in Taylor's security brought to me that evening to my hiding place convinced me that death was inevitable once I was caught. Oh thank God for my University connections. It is less likely that I would have received such a warning. Many others without such benefits have perished in the country. The expression on my face was difficult to define. After all what expression does one put on when death is at your doorsteps?
My host told me to be calm. The host hurriedly mobilized three gentlemen to help me get out of my hiding place into exile, like many other lucky Liberians since Taylor became President. Indeed, the escape arrangement worked. My rescuers took me out of Monrovia on that fateful Friday, the 24th of March, 2000. The depression and hunger of the five days journey itself into the jungle, the uncertainty ahead, was to me an odyssey worth writing about.
On several occasions, I had complained about intimidation, security threats and subsequent visitations of his marauding bands of blood-sucking fighters (security men) in the vicinity of my home at night. I had written the so-called Justice Minister Eddington Varmah on the 29th of January 2000 about the security threats and requested for his prompt intervention. But this was of no use because the whole affair against me was a coordinated scheme to have me killed in a mysterious manner, and up to the time I escaped the minister failed to respond to my letter.
Scenes of previous encounters with Taylor's thugs told me not to expect an easy life once I was his suspect for daring to question the essence and substance of his leadership. I can vividly remember when the ex-fighters(security men) came to arrest me on the 15th of December 1999. The ringleader holding walkie-talkie busy communicating "your try and bring reinforcement, we got the subject". He stared at me hard and told me in the face, "we will skin you to death". I was violently brought down stairs, whisked away to the Police Headquarters. There, I was stripped naked, beaten severely and thrown into the cells. At about 2:00 a.m., the CID boss ordered me out of the cells and instructed his subordinate that I sit in the corridors for reason best known to him. Oh God! I was there alone with my thoughts, trying to figure out the stages of my crusade.
Prior to this ordeal, I had become a target for the President and his band of loyalists. There was the US$10,000,000.00 lawsuit against my organization, FOCUS, and the Justice and Peace Commission for the publication of Forced Labor/Captivity reports. Embarrassed by the report, the Government had launched an unsuccessful rebuttal. Their anger was manifested in several ways. One of Taylor's most notorious Generals, Isaac Musa, accused of several abuses including arbitrary executions violently attacked my vehicle on one occasion. His entourage comprising some of the most feared fighters now serving in the security forces of the infamous Special Security Unit, attacked my driver and sliced off the man's ear for attempting to protect me. A Senator and member of Taylor's National Patriotic Party, the offshoot of the rebel National Patriotic Front, Peter Fineboy, ordered the public flogging of human rights activists for questioning several issues, including the campaign calling for the demolition of Gbatala base, a notorious military camp where torture, forced sodomy and other inhumane treatments were being carried out, based on our information. Then there was the call for the setting up of the Truth Commission with the aim of dwelling on the true accounts of atrocities committed during the seven years brutal civil war and many more. Aligning with these campaigns meant I was the President's enemy, and I have finally realized the fearful dimension of falling into their trap. The hour has come. I was convinced that Taylor and his disciples were determined to set an example on me and that they would not spare me come what may. "We will teach that little boy a lesson - calling our government a boy scout. We will set example on him".
These guys will not spare me. But I was mistaken, the hour has not come. God was still on my side, for I meant no evil. The next day I was charged with SEDITION and transferred to the Monrovia Central Prison.
Taylor's Party chiefs, amongst them Cyril Allen, Lewis Brown and other top brass of Taylor's NPP were shouting in protests at my activities and holding series of meetings for harmless creature like me. That they could react at the description of the government as boy scout was astonishing because it was so obvious. The government indeed is a boy scout. Everybody is referred to the scoutmaster (Taylor), including inquires on routine and daily matters. All things are placed on the President's chest and there is no such thing like assigning responsibility and duties to underlings. In financial matters, the President made all the decisions, personally allocated funds since all banking institutions and other productive sectors have collapsed.
The Court Room Drama:
My day in court convinced me of how corrupt and dependent the Judicial system on the whims of the President. The threat to the effectiveness of the judicial system is the fact that His Excellency is the author and principal architect of court rulings in cases of his interest. Verdicts and sentences are determined by Taylor before trials can even begin.
Convinced of my innocence, my determination was to test the system, to remain in Liberia and to see the color of justice. But the initial signals from the trial convinced of my useless dream. The Judiciary in Liberia is under the effective control and supervision of Taylor. I was soon disappointed and frustrated when I observed how Joseph Andrews, the trial judge, was deliberately refusing to ensure transparency and his obvious aim of preserving his job by addressing the wishes of Taylor, in this case by convicting me. And the signals that the trial was a farce, as all political trials in Liberia, were soon evident. On the 21st of February, the first day of court, the Judge was honest enough to declare, in the presence of international observers, that "what happens in the Western World will not be permitted here in Liberia. Anybody who castigates our President of this Republic will not go free".
Before the trial started, we received reports that the Judge was invited at the Presidential palace, the Executive Mansion, where he was instructed to find me guilty, and for doing so, he would be rewarded US$25,000.00(twenty thousands United Stated dollars).
Oh God! That was an advertisement of his negligence of duty, incompetence and cowardice to the noble legal profession. Following my escape, the Judge showed an immense interest in re-arresting me because without me to convict, I was certain the $25,000 was breeze. He shouted and shouted for me to be captured. But it was late. I was already out.
Another point worth mentioning is the denial of the Writ of Certiorari filed by my lawyers to the Supreme Court. Though, the Justice in Chambers, Justice Wright, one of Taylor's cousins, acknowledged the constitutionality of my statement, he chose to twist justice and subsequently sending the matter down to the lower court for continuation. How under heavens can we trust the judicial system that is in the midst of influence and manipulation?
To me, escape was my only choice if I had to live. Without confidence in the judicial system and the integrity of its practitioners, and with a President who has become the LAW, Liberia is doomed. My thanks to all those still in Liberia, including many within Taylor's security establishment, who made me to live to fight another battle.