Monrovia – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf latest Executive Clemency given to four Grand Gedeans appears to be a turning point for the purported sour relationship she’s experienced with the people of Grand Gedeh County.
Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni – [email protected]
Observers say Sirleaf’s performances in the 2005 and 2011 elections in the county show her unpopularity amongst the people of Grand Gedeh.
The National Elections Commission’s results show that she only managed 800 votes out of 22,783 casted in the 2005 runoff, and in 2011, she earned 4,514 out of 29,769 votes against the Congress for Democratic Change’s Winston Tubman who swept 21,877 votes.
These resounding disapprovals through the ballot, according to past elections results, are some of the indications that are prompting speculations.
“The issue maybe political going far back as many years, the second issue is that we’ve gone through elections and if you don’t want this person and if this person won, the person should be able to reconcile all the differences because they have won the election,” explains Garley Marh, head of the civil society chapter in Grand Gedeh.
The arrest and detention of the Grand Gedeans in 2012 dented the already porous relationship, and some had warned that it was tantamount to diminishing the decade of peace the country was enjoying.
Additionally, others asserted that the cancellation of the 2016’s July 26 independence celebration from the county was another attempt by the administration to marginalize the county, although the Executive Mansion argued otherwise.
However, her decision to release four of nine Grand Gedeans convicted and sentenced to life for mercernarism activities in neighboring Ivory Coast on December 30, 2016, has prompted observers to weigh in on the chief executive’s action and its ramification.
“Some of us will say it is overdue – in a more contextual manner.”
“We will like to see the nine of them being pardon because they were charged with the same act,” said Marh.
Those pardoned by the President include Ophoree Diah, Emmanuel Saymah, Jacob Saydee and Moses Bayee who were tried and convicted for Mecenarism from the Monrovia Central Prison. They are part of a total of 13 the President freed on Friday, December 30, 2016.
The others include Wuo Gballah, Ms. Oretha Gono, Yei Dokie, Peter Zuweh and Jerome Zuweh were convicted for vandalizing properties of Arcelor Mittal in Nimba County and released from the Buchanan Central Prison – while Prince Sayemie, Victoria Dolo, Hassan Morris and Kou Saye were released from the Sanniquellie and Monrovia Central Prisons.
As for the Grand Gedeans, they were accused in 2012 of carrying out mayhem and mercenary activities in Ivorian towns closer to the Liberian border.
They were also linked to the killing of seven Nigerien peacekeepers and at least 10 civilians on June 8, 2012 near Tai, Southeastern Ivory Coast and fighting side-by-side with militias loyal to former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.
Regardless the allegations and subsequent guilty verdict, Marh and several others became critical about the Supreme Court’s ruling against their kinsmen, alleging that the case was more political then judicial, while accusing the executive of interference during the course of the hearing.
“During the process of the trail what made us to become critical of the issue is that the legal component was compromised, evidences produced in court was not visibly seen, there were no enough evidence to convict someone for the act,” he said.
“The Grand Gedeans were not arrested in the Ivory Coast, and I mean the trial was not judicial but political,” argues Justice Randall Clarke, another Grand Gedean who resides in Monrovia. “We expected the president to have acted even long before.”
Others argued that the treatment of the Grand Gedeans during their prosecution was unlawful since they were kept in detention far beyond the legal period.
“The reason why some Grand Gedeans will have problem with the President is because she failed to protect her citizens in their own country – something she took oath to do,” said a native of Grand Gedeh who asked for anonymity.
Hearing an appeal from the defendants which emanated from blanket guilty verdict and a subsequent life sentence in Criminal Court “D”, the Supreme Court by a unanimous decision lifted the sentence on Isaac Taryon, alias Wolie Taryon, Prince Youty, James Lee Cooper and Sam Tarley alias Bull Dog for lack of sufficient evidence to link them to the crime and satisfactorily establish their guilt.
However, after review the records from the lower court and finding the remaining nine guilty, the Supreme Court opined that “the voluntary statements of these appellants/defendants duly made during their investigation by the police and in the presence of their counsels connected them to the crime of mercenarism with which they were charged; thus, their uncorroborated testimonies of general denials are insufficient to warrant the reversal of the judgment of conviction entered against them in the lower court”.
The Court also held that, with additional evidence provided, the State had “satisfactorily proved the crime of mercenarism” against the nine persons.
The nine were Nyazee Barway, alias Joseph Dweh, Morris K. Cole, alias Edward Cole/General Girl, Steven Gloto. Alias Rambo/Ninja, Emmanuel Saymah, alias Trainer, Moses Baryee, alias Moses Sarpee, Sam Ofori Diah, Alfred Bobby James, Jr., alias Bobby Sarpee, Jacob Saydee and Mohammed Massaquoi.
In September 2015, the president of the Grand Gedeh Association in America, Fred Gwyan, termed the prolonged detention of his kinsmen a factor that diminishes the benefits of over a decade of peace.
Gwyan appealed to Vice President Joseph Boakai to deliver a special message to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to grant executive clemency for their kinsmen, and hoped that the clemency will help foster peace, unity and reconciliation in Liberia.
He was, however, assured by Vice President Boakai that the government had nothing against his kinsmen which was evidenced by presence of several Grand Gedeans serving various positions in government.
Also calling for the release of the remaining nine convicts after the Supreme Court’s ruling in September, Representative Bhofal Chambers who chairs the House Committee on National Defense and Security underscored total reconciliation and urged President Sirleaf to release the Grand Gedeans.
He observed that due to the prolonged detention of the 13 Grand Gedeans many citizens of the county were not happy with the Government, and noted that such could impede the reconciliation gains the government has made over the years.
Responding to the release of the four Grand Gedeans, opposition political leader of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), Senator George Weah of Montserrado County who claimed he was involved with ‘behind the scene’ discussions with the president about the clemency, said it was a welcoming move.
“I told her (president Sirleaf) the need to issue clemency on some (of them),” Senator Weah told FrontPage Africa.
“I visited the prison on Independence Day and encouraged them to remain engage with the process and I think it is also in that direction that the president saw the need to issue clemency. This is beyond politics and I will continue to engage the president.”
During the release of the prisoners on December 30, 2016, President Sirleaf admonished them to endeavor to be good and law-abiding citizens by helping their communities promote peace as well as to help report and prevent crimes.
“As I grant you clemency today, let me urged you to return to your respective communities with positive attitudes and serve as good ambassadors for the promotion of peace and national development”, she told the pardoned prisoners.
She called on the released prisoners to think and act positively and seek to be patriotic and nationalistic citizens.
She further urged them to be good ambassadors for
reconciliation and national healing across Liberia.
“You all need to know that you committed crime, came before the court of law and were found guilty. What we are doing here now is an act of goodwill based on your behavior after conviction. So, by the virtue of the authority granted me by the constitution, I hereby set you free and may God be with you,” President Sirleaf said.
Mixed Reactions in Grand Gedeh.
Despite the president’s action termed as a ‘good will’, there are still mixed reactions coming from locals in Grand Gedeh County especially as five of their kinsmen still remain behind bars. But for others, it is a positive step in the right direction.
The head of the civil society council in the country says all of those free are not from one community; therefore there are jubilations in certain communities and sadness in others.
“In terms of the sectional make up of this place you have people happy because their family has been freed and you have people sad because people who hailed from their area are behind bars,” he said.
But Senator Alphonso Gaye of Grand Gedeh County, who is currently in the county, told FPA his people are “happy and jubilating”.
Like President Sirleaf, Senator Gaye, however, cautioned the pardoned prisoners against committing crime and asked them to get back in the society and be civilized.
He said the county will continue to appeal to President Sirleaf to grant clemency to the remaining five.
“The reconciliation between President Sirleaf and the people of rand Gedeh County has gone far back; she’s been here and spent more than five days,” recalled Senator Gaye. “She is the President of Liberia even if someone has problem with her, the fact remains she is the president and we must treat her as such.”
Editor’s Note: Reporter Henry Karmo also contributed to this story