Monrovia – A Liberian man facing a minimum 20-year sentence for trafficking nearly 200 Liberian women to Oman has skipped bail and vanished leaving victims angry. Cephas Selebay, believed to be in his early 30s, worked as an accountant for the Forestry Training Institute in Bomi County before he was arrested in August.
By: Anthony Stephens with New Narratives
A Montserrado County grand jury indicted Selebay on charges of trafficking in person, criminal solicitation, and theft of property. He was arrested and incarcerated at the Monrovia Central Prison.
A month later Selebay was granted bail by Judge Roosevelt Willie, in Criminal Court “A”, after Reverend Francis Kollie, a human rights advocate and his father-in-law, and Selebay’s sister Christina Gahndolo, offered themselves as his human sureties. Liberian law allows defendants who cannot afford to pay a bond to offer people who will serve in their place should they disappear.
That is exactly what Selebay did. Sometime after his court appearance he allegedly fled his house. Counsellor Wesseh A. Wesseh, Liberia’s Acting Solicitor General, said authorities believe Selebay has left Liberia.
Under Liberian law, criminal defendants cannot be tried in absentia. The case will be on hold until Selebay is found.
“We’re hoping that one of these days he will be arrested and brought to justice,” said Cllr. Wesseh. “But the case is on the docket. It’s like a trap set that it doesn’t forget only the animal can forget. We don’t care how long he will go for. We’re using other international instruments to have him arrested.”
Some of Selebay’s victims expressed anger at his escape. “I want him to be given the maximum penalty,” said Kolu (her real name is being withheld for her protection). “If they find him, I want him taken to court so that I can get justice.”
“I want him to go to jail for life,” said Sarah, another victim. “I want justice. So, when justice is done, I will be happy.”
Selebay’s family have also paid a heavy price for his escape. The court ordered Kollie and Ghandolo’s incarceration at the Monrovia Central Prison. After spending almost, a month in jail they were granted release due to illness.
Though a doctor proclaimed them well enough to return to prison the judge has extended their release on the proviso they searched for Selebay. Five individuals— Edwin G. Johnson, Karfee Panton, Aaron McCoy, Rosemary T. Draper and Henry L. Flomo – are serving as their guarantors. The court ordered Kollie and Ghandolo to surrender their passports and they are barred from leaving Liberia. Their release will be reviewed on December 8 at which time they could be returned to jail. Kollie declined a request for an interview saying he was “depressed.” Gahndolo has not responded to a request for an interview.
Liberian consular staff in Dubai cooperated with two internationals with connections in Oman to bring 75 of the women homes. At least dozens more remain trapped in the country communicating through a WhatsApp group seen by Front Page Africa/New Narratives. Almost all the women who have returned have told harrowing stories of abuse, violence, torture, and neglect. Liberian officials do not know exactly how many women remain in Oman. They have sent a formal communication to Oman asking for confirmation but have not received a reply.
Cephas is one of eleven people facing charges in this court term under Liberia’s new trafficking law, passed in September 2021. The law is one of the toughest in the region and will see traffickers sentenced to a minimum 20 years in prison if convicted. Previously the minimum sentence was one year.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the Investigating Liberia project. Funding was provided by the US Embassy in Liberia. The funder had no say in the story’s content.