Monrovia – President George Manneh Weah on Thursday explained why he did not show solidarity with protestors campaigning against the rising wave of rape and abuse in Liberia.
A total of 992 cases of rape have been reported over the past year alone.
Speaking to state radio, LBS Thursday, the President said while he condemns police brutality, some of those among the protestors were there with ulterior motives.
Said President Weah: “I condemn police brutality but security forces go to the street during a protest to protect protestors and the police will always go to the street to pull out people who go with different motives. If it is true that people were maltreated I warn that it doesn’t happen again.”
Give Messenger Respect, President Says
The President, however, pointed out that if he dispatches a messenger who is disrespected then it paints a bad picture. “When the President sends someone to the people to represent him they should see that person as their messenger the person should not be boo or disrespected. Anyone that goes to represent me for a petition they should give them that respect.”
President Weah’s comments came hours after the third day of protesting got off to a rocky start as officers of the Liberia National Police put up a strong resistance to protesters who had begun gathering as early as 7am Thursday.
Many who had begun assembling near the Vamoma Junction -Airfield route were turned away as they tried to assemble for the third day of protest, drawing attention to the government and raising awareness about the issue.
“They just assaulted us, saying that nobody is gathering and instructing us to go home,” said Facia Harris. “Most of the officers then began assaulting us, as a result the protesters are going into hiding.
Veda Ayele Nyoth Simpson, in a live Facebook declared: “We are unprotected, Thursday in Black”.
Madam Simpson explained: “Just for peacefully assembling, they are saying we are making Liberia ugly. This is the police that supposedly sworn to serve and protect – and instead of protecting, they are threatening, they are harassing. We have young people who are here just to speak for their rights and to talk and to talk about what’s going on in this country. Rape is an epidemic in Liberia, there needs to be a state of emergency on rape in Liberia, we are truly unprotected, if the police cannot protect us, Thursday in Black, we are unprotected.
Police were also accused of seizing cellphones from protesters.: “He (a police officer)threatened me, if he does not give me my phone I will go to the court of law,” a protester lamented.
The protest started on Tuesday with protesters presenting a petition to the national legislature, drawing attention to what they describe as a pandemic. “We have a rape pandemic on our hands. There have been hundreds of rape cases across the country and the numbers keep climbing exponentially,” the petitioners lamented. “Our mothers and daughters are under attack daily by predators that have no fear of bearing the full weight of the law. These outrageous acts are only persisting because our justice system has been so weak that perpetrators commit these atrocities and go scot-free; because our laws have been made lax and created loopholes for these criminals to exploit.”
In their petition, the group laid out several recommendations they believe when implemented by the Government of Liberia will help end this nightmare for the people of Liberia.
The petition from the group stated: Increase budgetary allocation in the FY 2020/2021 budget, and subsequent budgets for Criminal Court “E”; and to facilitate the strengthening of the judicial system for speedy trial of rape and other Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) cases including the hiring of more judges to hear and determine rape and SGBV cases speedily and expeditiously.
The heavy presence of police Thursday morning comes barely 24 hours after Day Two of the protest ended in chaos after some men believed to be associates of the Monrovia City Mayor, Jefferson Koijee, allegedly disrupted the protest after forcing their way through a blockade set up by the protestors in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which currently hosts the offices of President George Weah.
The City Mayor has, however, denied being associated with the disruption of the protest, noting that he is a supporter of the protest against rape.
‘I don’t Have to be There’
For President Weah, those advocating for him to have appeared to receive the petition are being unfair. “It’s not about the paper, it’s the message. I don’t have to be there I could be busy. In 2017 I was in the street marching from city hall to where we were gathering against rape. This is a country of law, we need to sit around the table and discuss it.”
The President argued: “We should not see others as more against rape than the others. I have deputies and representation they should respect if they can’t then they don’t respect their own government. It’s not that I don’t care I do but I been busy.”
The President also took aim at what he described as ill-treatment against former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. “Former President Sirleaf is a citizen and she did a good thing to visit the protestors. What I don’t like was people who tried to disrespect her. Under President Sirleaf we got in the street to walk against rape, we were not protesting. We got on the street to say rape is not a good thing.”
The President added that it is his government’s responsibility to address the situation which they are trying to do. “What I can do as chief executive is to get the needed equipment at the various health centers but at the end of the day it’s an issue of law because we talking about penalties it’s not the president it’s the law.”
The President also dismissed suggestions that he is a dictator. “Lot of people believe that I am dictator but I follow the law that is why anything I do is in accordance with the law. I applaud Liberians who came to the street sincerely to talk about rape. People who are serious about rape need to start engaging the legislature and the Police.”
‘Why Insult the Leadership’
The President also took aim at some protesters raining insults on him. “I watched the live scream, people were insulting the President. We are talking about rape why insult the leadership. We need to know who are the protesters and where are they from. Today, the police had the right to defend civil liberty but again the police have the rights to protect lives and properties.”
The President said he is willing to meet with leaders of the protesters however he says they should also channel their grievances with existing and relevant government institutions. “We have the justice and Gender ministers to channel their grievances. I am concerned about raping and they are concern whether we like it or not we need to get to the law on rape. Today, some people were at the US embassy, and I was told a team from the embassy received the petition. If you will allow a team from the embassy to receive your petition why refused a team from the government of Liberia? It does not make sense.”
The President said it is unfair for any group to politicize rape. “Let us not joke, let us not politicize rape. Rape is a serious issue the president’s office is open to the public those wanting to petition government can carry their petition to government officials and leave it there.”