Liberia: Govt, Political Parties Condemn Humiliation of ’26 Day Protestors, Call for Investigation
Monrovia – In the wake of the July 26 Independence Day violence between the Campus-based Student Unification Party (SUP) and pro-government group under the banner, the CDC-Council of Patriots, the governing Coalition for Democracy Change (CDC) and the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) have engulfed into a web of acrimonious claims and counterclaims.
On Tuesday, July 26, SUP, Africa’s oldest student movement, assembled at the United States Embassy on Benson Street in Monrovia, one of the designated spots of its much heralded “Fix The Country” campaign aimed at denouncing what it termed as bad governance and its vices including corruption, poverty and insecurity under the Weah-led administration.
The campaign, according to SUP, was also intended to dissuade citizens from joining the Government in celebrating Liberia’s 175th Independence.
While the official ceremony was being held at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion on Ashmun Street in Monrovia, the students’ protest soon turned sour at the entrance of the U.S. Embassy up Snipper Hill on Benson Street when the CDC- Council of Patriots led by its leader Ben Tokpah, stormed the protest ground and attacked SUP members. While many SUP members fled, some were caught up in the melee.
Disturbing footage from the scene showed a member of SUP, identified as Christopher Walter Sisulu Sivili being beaten and tortured. In what appeared to be an unsettling reminiscence of the brutal civil war, the student was seen surrounded by a group of CDC loyalists who pounded him with heavy blows and slaps. They stripped him naked as blood oozed from his nose and mouth. Some rained curse on him, and torturing him, said he and his colleagues were being ungrateful to President Weah, who, among other things, has offered them free tuition.
As he was being brutalized, anti-riot police stood by, watched and laughed and did nothing to rescue him; much to the astonishment of journalists and some onlookers and motorcyclists who later came to his rescue after he was abandoned by his tormentors. Another member of SUP identified as Paul Dolo was also wounded. Some members are still missing, according to SUP officials. They have since accused the ruling party of being the mastermind behind the violence meted against their members.
ANC Accuses CDC
A day after the incident, the ANC, through its political leader Alexander Cummings has joined SUP in accusing the ruling party’s hierarchy of instigating the violence.
In a statement, the ANC said: The Alternative National Congress has strongly condemned the unprovoked violent attack, torture and humiliation, on peaceful protesting students of the University of Liberia under the banner of the Student Unification Party (SUP), by state-sponsored thugs and bandits, recruited, organized trained and financed by Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill and President George Weah – for the sole purpose of violently crushing political dissent and instilling fear and terror in the opposition community and citizens who disagree with the Government’s policies and practices.”
According to the ANC, “The group of thugs and bandits, under the command and instruction of Jefferson Koijee, were, during the violent attack, led by officials of the CDC-COP including Ben Believe Togba, Poker Roberts and one Abdurahman Barrie, outgoing Student Council President from the African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU).”
The ANC said Barrie is believed to head the Consortium of University Students for the Re-election of President Weah. Further laying its claims, the ANC noted that few minutes after the violent attacks, Togba, leader of the attackers, wrote boastfully on his page: “Under special instructions from our supreme leader Jefferson Tamba Koijee, we carried out attacks against UL students (SUP) this morning. Next time we will use live bullets!”
The ANC called on the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Liberia, Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, Jr., to immediately order a full investigation of the alleged mastermind of the violence.
“ANC is therefore calling on the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Liberia, Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, Jr., to immediately order a full investigation and the arrest and prosecution of Jefferson Koijee, Ben Believe Toba, Poker Roberts, Abdurahman Barrie, and others, for the violent attacks on peaceful protesting students.”
The opposition party has also written a letter to Liberia’s Justice Minister Dean, with copies to U.S. Ambassador Michael McCarthy, the African Union and ECOWAS in which it frowned on what “appears to be a persistent pattern of conduct of grooming and institutionalizing domestic terror by President Weah and his surrogates including Nathaniel McGill and Jefferson Koijee to distribute violence through thugs and bandits in order to instill fear in the opposition community and silent dissenting voices.”
CDC Blames Opposition Community
However, in a counter statement, the CDC, through its National Chairman Mulbah K. Morlue, denied the allegations, and in turn accused the opposition of supporting the students to create an unfavorable environment for the government.
“… we use this medium to encourage the combined political opposition to confront the CDC-led government more openly if they will, rather than hiding behind members of the student community to portray a false sense of governance dysfunction,” the CDC said through its Chairman Morlue.
The CDC said, as a peaceful, law-abiding and nonviolent political institution, it will continue to maintain a zero-tolerance policy against any form of violence.
It added that the use of violence as a medium through which political expressions are sought is reprehensible, unjustified and runs contrary to the ideology and philosophy of the party.
“The CDC condemns in the strongest possible terms these alleged acts of brutality committed by lawless elements and calls on the Liberia National Police to launch a speedy investigation (on all sides) determined to establish the facts and to bring the culprits to justice.”
It also called on the Liberia National Police to conduct a holistic investigative process in response to strong allegations that members of the CDC (who are being treated in different hospitals) sustained injuries meted out by anti-government protesters in different locations.
PUL Condemns Violence
Also in reaction to the incident, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has condemned as cruel and anti-democratic the 2022 Independence Day violence on the sidelines of the celebrations.
In a statement through its Secretary General, Musa MB Kenneh, the PUL said members of the SUP had for weeks informed the public of what it had built as the “Fix Liberia Campaign”.
“The party said it was peaceably assembling to petition their government and partners to improve the living standard of the people. To actualize their plan, the Student Unification Party placed some of its members before the United States Embassy, the group was infiltrated by the CDC- COP thus leaving many of them injured.”
The PUL, in its accounts, revealed that the CDC- COP operatives were seen chasing after the SUP militants, destroying, beating, and attacking inhabitants of the Greystone Community neighboring the US Embassy in Liberia.
It called on the Liberia National Police, CDC and the Liberian Government to investigate the “embarrassing” impasse and violation of the laws.
Government Orders Investigation
Amid the endless claims and counter claims, Justice Minister Musa Dean has instructed Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue to immediately launch a full-scale investigation into the incident.
The Government, through the Ministry of Justice said it “categorically condemns the street violence that happened in Monrovia on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, involving two rival groups purporting to be some students of the University of Liberia campus-based Students Unification Party (SUP) and the CDC-COP.”
The Government through Information Minister Ledgerhood J. Rennie said the Images of the violence being posted on social media show unwarranted use of force and maltreatment of some participating youths which has no place in the country’s newfound democracy.
“The Attorney General, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean Jr., has accordingly called on the police to ensure that perpetrators are brought to book in keeping with the laws of Liberia. The Government wants to make it clear that while it encourages all citizens to express their views on national issues their methods must be in conformity with law,” Rennie said.
Minister Rennie stated that Articles 13 and 15 of the Liberian Constitution guarantee such rights. However, he noted that the named constitutional provisions clearly express the safeguarding of public order, public safety as well as rights and freedom of others.
In addition, he said the Ministry of Justice has clarified that it did not receive a request from any group to march in the streets of Monrovia on Tuesday, July 26, whether in protest for or against the Liberian Government.
A formal request for any such action is a cardinal requirement by law, which can be conveyed through a written petition to the Ministry of Justice for a permit, he said.
He mentioned that the Liberia National Police Act of 2015 Section III Article 22.86 which also deals with ‘Public Order’, mandates any persons wanting to hold such a march or protest to contact the Minister of Justice in keeping with the law.
Had such a request come to the Ministry of Justice, the Information Minister said the government would have acted to ensure public safety and order by scheduling the rival groups at different times.
“The Government is encouraging all individuals who witnessed the Tuesday, July 26 violence to assist the Police with its investigation. They can be assured that their identities will be protected and information held confidentially,” he noted.