Liberia: Slapped with Indefinite Suspension, Writ of Arrest, Achie Ponpon Sets Himself Ablaze in Protest
MONROVIA – There is no such record in Liberia’s recent history where a man would set himself ablaze in protest against what he believes is an unfair treatment against him, Leroy Achie Ponpon, a bailiff, would be remembered for such an unorthodox protest against Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor.
Ponpon who is now seeking medical treatment at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center for the burns he sustained after setting himself ablaze was protesting his indefinite suspension and subsequent Writ of Arrest for reportedly leading series of protest against the Chief Justice.
The Temple of Justice which houses the Judiciary witnessed several protests in the past few weeks by staffers who felt disenchanted over salary cuts and delayed salaries.
According to the staffers, the Chief Justice has allegedly taken away, and refused to pay their Liberian dollars salary for the past 12 months.
Many of the workers who joined the protest held the opinion that Chief Justice Korkpor unilaterally cut their salaries and was deliberately refusing to pay them, despite months of arrears. The aggrieved workers in a protest a fortnight ago chanted: “Francis Korkpor rogue! Rogue!”. This prompted the intervention of the Minister of Finance Samuel Tweah, who immediately went to the Temple of Justice to talk to the employees.
He dispelled rumours that the Chief Justice had illegally taken away the Liberian dollars salary of judicial staffers.
Said the minister: “The information that the Chief Justice owes you (judicial staffers) money, has taken your money, is misleading and it’s wrong. I have been watching people raining insults on the Honorable Chief Justice, that is not correct. The Chief Justice has not taken a dime from any judicial worker. The government itself owes the Chief Justice. As Minister of Finance, I am telling you that. So, nobody should insult or accuse the Chief Justice or Associate Justices of taking your money.”
The minister told judicial staffers that the harmonization policy ended the Liberian dollars salary portion of their pay. “Going forward beginning October, just as the formula was used to pay people in the Labor Ministry, and everywhere, that’s how it will be. This means, you will notice a difference in your pay. That’s clear.”
Added the minister: “The Judiciary Branch of the Republic of Liberia never use to pay taxes before, you are now paying taxes. That’s not a cut. Every citizen of the Republic of Liberia should pay taxes but the Judiciary was exempted. Under Standardization and Harmonization this time, you are paying taxes.”
Minister Tweah also added that the government will not take away any worker salary. “Whatever you are entitled to, nobody can take it away from you. That’s the principle behind harmonization.”
Chief Justice Angered?
The protest by the aggrieved staff which had gone on for days prior to the intervention of Minister Tweah, according to sources at the Legislature, did not go down well with Justice Korkpor.
Some administrative decisions were taken against some of the employees involved with the protest.
FrontPageAfrica gathered that some of the employees were transferred to other courts – some to areas they deem unfavorable for them.
However, Mr. Ponpon who was regarded as the leader of the protest was suspended for time indefinite – something he believes was inhumane.
A source within the administration of the Judiciary told FrontPageAfrica that Ponpon was the most severely punished staff and it was based on the orders of the Chief Justice.
The source who asked for anonymity said, “He instructed that Achie Ponpon be suspended for time indefinite. This is why you see Achie Ponpon staged another protest by going to lie down under his (Chief Justice) car. That protest wasn’t about salary any longer. It was about his suspension.
“When he did that, he obstructed the Chief Justice from using his vehicle that day. The Chief Justice was going for a program but he rode the pilot vehicle. A complaint was sent to the Ministry of Justice and subsequently a Writ of Arrest was issued against him.”
According to the source, though the Writ of Arrest was issued against Ponpon over a week ago, he has continuously dodged it while at the same time staging a one-man protest against the Chief Justice over his suspension.
“The truth of the matter is that it most of the staff at the Temple of Justice seems to be siding with him (Ponpon), so, they were not serious in issuing the Writ against Ponpon. Normally, when a Writ of Arrest is issued, you’re immediately arrested, especially so on the grounds of the Temple of Justice. But they served Achie Ponpon the Writ, he received it and started walking away. That’s when he went and set himself ablaze. He went purposely for that,” the source added.
Ponpon on hunger strike
Archie Ponpon is noted for so many protests. In 2018, he staged a hunger strike near the United States of America’s Embassy in Monrovia in demand of President George Weah’s asset declaration.
Laying on a single bed sheet spread on the pavement and having several placards with different inscriptions on them around him in front of the US Embassy for the second day, Ponpon told FrontPageAfrica that he was being tortured by President Weah’s refusal to adhere to the law that says upon coming to office all public officials should declare their assets.
Dehydrated after spending two days on hunger strike, Ponpon alleged that partisans from the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change threatened him and also attempted to force food into his mouth in order for him to discontinue his hunger strike.
“If President Weah continues not to show interest in declaring his asset then he wants me to die. And I think the President does not want any Liberian to die. It is his responsibility to protect us,” activist Ponpon narrated.
He added, “But if he does not declare his asset, I will continue this hunger strike until he does so. If he does not do so, I think he is torturing me by the fact that I am not eating, I am not drinking, I am moving up to the point of death and it is very critical for me right now. I cannot help myself so I do not know what will happen to me in the next few days to come.”
Ponpon is on record of staging a protest for gay rights in 2012; he is also on record of burning the Norwegian flag in protest over former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 and several other protests during the Sirleaf’s regime.
The hunger strike protest for President Weah and his cabinet to declare their asset was Ponpon’s first protest under the CDC-led government after more than 70 days in office. In furtherance, Ponpon said his three-day hunger strike was intended to bring transparency, accountability couple with the rule of law.
“I do not need attention from anybody. I am just doing a human right piece of job. The public has the right to be informed as to what the President’s asset is, what his income is, what his liability is. He must declare all of that. And so, I am not seeking any attention. I am just doing my work as an activist to make sure that society lives within the confine of the law and that nobody is bigger than the law,” Ponpon said.