Liberia: Suspected Gay Men, Teenager Brutalized in New Wave of Homophobic Attack

Paynesville—Daniel Johnson, Richmond Jones, and Joseph David were returning from a wake keeping ceremony in the early morning hours of Saturday, May 8, in the Gobachop community of Paynesville when they were hassled and severely beaten by members of a community watch team over unfounded suspicion they were gays.

Daniel (name changed to protect his identity), 25, said they were halted by the men as they approached their community. The men, he said, are all residents of Gobachop as well. 

 “When we saw them, we wanted to run,” he said tearfully. “They were plenty and they had cutlasses—they started asking us where we coming from. They were slapping and hitting us with the cutlasses while they were questioning us. I told them we live in the community, and my friends were going to my house to sleep because it was very late for them to go home.”

He said the men, unsatisfied with their answer, asked them to call their landlord to verify their claims of residing in the community. “We called our landlord, but his phone was off. One of them said they know our landlord’s brother—they called him to confirm and he told them that we lived there.”

Following the call, he said things took a downturn for the worst when the men received another call from their landlord’s brother, which, he added, intensified their brute. 

“They started saying we are faggots and they are going to kill us one by one in Liberia. They said they been hunting for us in the community, and now they finally caught us; so they will beat us till we die and nothing will come out of it because Government will back them.

“They undressed and tied us up [and] then wasted hot water they were using for their tea on our skin. Beat the cutlasses on my back, legs, and butt, and then used a stick and forcibly pushed it in my anus. From that moment, I wasn’t to myself.”

LGBTI persons continue to come under threats and record instances of assault, harassment, and hate speech, according to the 2020 U.S. State Department Human Rights report on Liberia

Last October, ex-personnel of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Cheeseman Cole, was arrested, for reportedly catfishing over 27 men from social media and brutalizing them when they showed up at his residence, claiming that he was on a divine mission to cleanse Liberia of its LGBT population. 

Two men—Dominic Renner and Winston Toe— remain missing from Cole’s alleged freakshow. The Liberia National Police continue to remain tightlipped on the status of the investigation. 

Though Cole was investigated, forwarded to the court, and detained for a brief period at the Monrovia Central Prison, he is currently out on bail awaiting prosecution from the Ministry of Justice. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice, Maude Somah, said her boss, Solicitor General Syrenius Cephus, is following up with the county attorney on the status of the prosecution. 

Liberian law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. Article 14.74, 14.79, and 50.7 [of the Penal Code of 1976] consider voluntary sodomy as a first-degree misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to one year imprisonment.  

The country has not defined its stance on the protection of the rights of its LGBT population. But Attorney General, F. Musah Dean, during the launch of the UN SOGIE report in November 2020 said the Liberian constitution guarantees protection for all. 

With the election of President Joe Biden who promised protection of LGBT people worldwide, the Liberian gay community continues to remain hopeful.

Richmond Jones (name also changed to protect his identity), 17, says he experiences severe pain and is unable to move freely due to the treatment he received at the hands of the community watch team members. 

“They undressed me, tied my feet and hands and dragged me in the middle of the road and beat me with the cutlass on my stomach, my back and used a stick to mark my butt. They hit me on my head with an iron which made blood roll down my face. Currently, I feel pain in my head.”

He revealed that they were left in a helpless state until daylight when he and Joseph David, another victim, pull themselves together and took an unconscious Daniel home. 

Police Arrest One Suspect

With the help of an outreach officer/human rights activist of the LEGAL Association of Liberia, the case of the trio was registered at the Zone 5 Police Depot in Duport Road as, according to them, they were afraid to do so in Gobachop due to further threats from the community watch team there would be a repetition of a similar act.

“We were afraid that due to the fact the perpetrators reside in the community, the case might not be taken seriously,” said an outreach staff of LEGAL who spoke anonymously. “However, we were able to register the case at the depot in Gobachop through the instrumentality of one of our protection officers from Solidarity Sisters under LEGAL.”

The LEGAL outreach officer said the Police were able to make a lone arrest of a suspect who is indirectly connected to the alleged brutalization of Daniel Johnson, Richmond Jones, and Joseph David—the brother of their landlord. 

According to him, he denied ordering the brutalization of the trio but admitted receiving a call to acknowledge that the victims are tenants of his brother. “He said he knows the men who carried out the act and he will collaborate with the police to have them arrested.

However, when contacted Police spokesperson, Moses Carter, said the information has not reached his office, and follow-up will be done with the respective depots. He furthered that every watch team is registered with the community section of the Liberia National Police. 

The conundrum Daniel, Richmond, and Joseph face is, the Police precinct in Gobachop does not have a record on the watch team which brutalized them, according to the outreach officer of LEGAL.

LIPRIDE Condemns Violence 

The coalition body which covers all human rights organizations in the country, LIPRIDE (Liberia’s initiative for the Promotion of Rights, Identity, Diversity, and Equality, has strongly condemned the violation against the three. 

“It is the government’s responsibility to protect all of its citizens, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said the coordinator of LiPRIDE, Maxwell W. Monboe, in a statement. “It is inhumane and this has to stop!”

Help Sought for further treatment and relocation

While Daniel, Richmond, and Joseph continue to go through daily pain, they are also appealing to the public for help to seek treatment at a better health facility.

 “We took Daniel to a clinic and the nurse advised that we go to a bigger hospital to do a thorough check-up,” said Richmond. “We don’t have money. I want to go to hospital as well but I don’t have any money.”

And Daniel said he needs immediate relocation as he fears for his safety. “I am in pain and not feeling safe being here. I want to move but I don’t have money.” He pays US$10 monthly for a one-bedroom structure built of mud. 

The foreseeable future looks bleak for the three as they pondered over the whys of their befallen calamity. However, a safe home from marauding gangs and proper medical check at a referral hospital could be one of the best ways to keep them safe from a hostile environment that is yet to come to terms on the issue of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

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