Liberia National Police Faces Increasing Criticisms For Manhandling Protesting Students

The Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY) has condemned the police for using force to disperse “peaceful students during a protest”

Monrovia – The Liberia National Police’s handling of protesting students on Tuesday, October 15 in Monrovia is drawing increasing criticisms. Several groups and politicians have blamed the police for using disproportionate brute force that caused the injury of undisclosed number of students.

Report by Alline Dunbar, [email protected] & Willie N. Tokpah, [email protected]

The students, mostly of the Monrovia Consolidated School System, were angry that their teachers had dropped chalk over delay salary. They then took to the streets to demand the government pay their teachers.

Capitol Hill erupted into chaos as students ran amok protesting and blocking the Tubman Boulevard, which is the main route to the office of the President. President George Weah convoy was blocked for several minutes as officers tried to disperse the protesters.

Several armature videos capturing scenes of the protest have gone viral on social media. Some showing Police perusing students as they flee into school compounds, another video shows the police spraying tears gas on students, causing many of them to pass-out or sustain severe injury.

As the aftermath of the protest sets in and sorting the arrears of the go-slow teachers takes a big place on the government’s main agenda, condemnation of the Police is also growing.

FLY Condemns Police 

The Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY) has condemned the police for using force to disperse “peaceful students during a protest”.

“The police decided to forcibly disperse the protestors by using teargas in order to allow the President’s convoy passage through the crowd. Several students sustained injuries and were hospitalized as a result,” said James Koryor, Secretary-General of FLY, the umbrella organization of youth and students in Liberia.  

He was speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, October 16. 

The group says the actions of the government violate the “fundamental freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly as guaranteed in the various international treaties ratified by Liberia and the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.”

The government has been increasingly anti-democratic in recent months in seeking to prevent and silence freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and the institution considers this as being contrary to Articles 1 and 17 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution, said the FLY secretary general.

“Gone are those days when students were beaten by state security officers only because they chose to move history in the right trajectory,” Koryor said while equating actions of the state security officers to that of the Soweto scenario in South Africa.   

ANC Blasts Police 

Meanwhile, opposition political party Alternative National Congress has blasted the police for using “brutality against public high school students”.

ANC said it was a total violation of several international protocols for state security to mal-handled children who were advocating for their rights to education.

“The Alternative National Congress strongly condemns the teargasing, brutal beating and wounding of these students by officers of the Liberian National Police,” a statement issued by the ANC on Wednesday said.

ANC said it was appalling for state security to use deadly force on ‘unarmed peaceful’ high school students and ‘abuse the power’ entrusted them to protect every citizens.  

“The police decided to forcibly disperse the protestors by using teargas in order to allow the President’s convoy passage through the crowd. Several students sustained injuries and were hospitalized as a result.”

– James Koryor, Secretary-General of FLY

The abuse and brutality meted against these students including minors by LNP officers contravene the African Chapter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Geneva Convention on the Rights of the Child, the opposition political party said Wednesday in a release.

ANC Political leader Alexander Cummings said such “wanton act of violence” against high school kids is unacceptable, adding that children should never be subjected to such trauma and aggression anywhere in the world as was demonstrated by the leadership of Liberia. 

Cummings also asserted that leaders must never resolve to treating children as criminals when it is incumbent on the leadership to listen to their cries.

At the same time, ANC Chairman Daniel Naatehn said the use of deadly force on peaceful protesters, causing serious bodily injury, is prohibited by the United Nations Code of Conduct of Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights Basic Principles on Use of Force.

“We are calling on the international community to investigate these crimes against our homeless children in the interest of justice and fairness. 

The party said instead of targeting innocent students, the government must set its priorities to address the legitimate salary demand of its employees and ‘stop being reactionary,” Senator Naatehn said. 

 Education Forum Slams Protest

Meanwhile, an Education Non-Governmental Organization Forum (ENF) has condemned “the violence exerted both against and by students” of the protest.

ENF is a body of more than 50-member organizations (both local and international) working collectively to contribute to improvements in Liberia’s educational sector. 

“As parents, elders’ community members and stakeholders, we recognize and respect the students for exercising their constitutional rights to peaceably assemble and air their grievances. However, we condemn the acts of violence perpetuated against other students and impeding the free movements of other citizens as the important grievances were being raised. The ENF also cautions that any future concerns are best expressed peacefully and non-violently,” ENF said.

“We fully acknowledge that the concerns to see swift resolution of outstanding issues attendant to the education of our children, specifically the settlement of delayed salaries of MCSS teachers, are urgent and valid.”

However, ENF also wishes to caution that such concerns are best expressed peacefully and non-violently.

“Based on the many images and videos that have emerged, we also strongly condemn the use of excessive force by the Liberia National Police (LNP) on students which saw the wounding of our children, the unleashing of tear gas, and the flogging of unarmed students, including others who had sought refuge in their classrooms, and away from the streets,” the group said, adding that “images of children bloodied, bruised, and ailing conjure memories of dark chapters in Liberia’s past which cannot ever be repeated”. 

The ENF also stressed that while it is the responsibility of the LNP to safeguard citizen’s life, property, and ensure free and safe movements throughout the country, the ENF believes that our security apparatus ought to possess both the skills and self-discipline to handle our children’s grievances in a way that facilitates its proper hearing by the relevant authorities, while also ensuring the public spaces and our children are safe, duly protected, and avoidably non-violent. 

The release added: “Let us be mindful that they are not simply aggrieved youth. They are our future and each interaction with State forces is an opportunity to honor their value to our nation, and learn the lessons of good citizenship. The use of violence should never be the substitute for problem solving, empathic communication, active listening, and community building. Our children are watching, the world is watching.”

At the same time, FLY has also called on the government to immediately pay the salary of the MCSS teachers and all other government employees in order to prevent future protests. 

FLY is also calling on the government to handle the medical bills of all students that were hospitalized, at the same time cautioning the government to be more responsible in upholding the rule of law.