Living in Liberia as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person often means your right or access to justice is ignored and trampled upon in plain sight.
For background, I am the Curator-in-Chief of journalRAGE, an online news outlet whose focus is on the rainbow issues in Liberia.
By: Gboko J. Stewart, Curator-in-Chief
On August 23, at about 10 pm, a member of our staff overheard an open threat by a youth in his community that his residence would be burnt down. Our staff lives in a slum community in Sinkor.
During the early morning hours (2 a.m.) of August 24, he came under attack when the roof of his one-bedroom apartment was pelted with stones in the Sinkor community.
Unknown to me, he had tried calling me via Messenger throughout the night to give me an alert about what was ongoing. However, I was out partying—the next day was a national holiday.
It was only when I had gotten back the next morning did I see his messages on my muted phone.
And before I could place the next call to him, he was already at my doorstep. Briefing me on the situation, we immediately proceeded to the headquarters of the Liberia National Police to register the case in our quest to get justice for him, or so we thought.
Following our registration of the case, we were given a case number. Thereafter, I followed him to his residence to assess and ascertain the level of damage done, as well as to work out modalities for his relocation to a safer place.
While doing that, his neighbor came around alerting us that she had sighted the suspect at his mother’s residence. We followed the neighbor to meet the suspect and his mother.
As we approached the area, I pulled our reporter aside and asked him for $300LD (US$2) so I could hurriedly run to the nearest law enforcement area to collect some men to effect an arrest. I had forgotten my wallet at home.
He did not hesitate to do so. I jumped on a commercial motorcycle and made my way to the office of the Monrovia City Police. There, I commandeered two officers who are trained for hostile situations and individuals.
Arriving on the scene, I noticed that the mother of the suspect was doing her utmost best to gather an angry mob on our reporter, saying he was/is gay and was in the act of sodomizing men.
Her son – the suspect – had absconded before my return. However, on the scene was another young man who was also making a similar accusation to the mother of his friend. Then, it clicked to me he could be one of those who had carried out the attack.
It wasn’t just his remarks that gave him off, his looks did. He was unkempt. His body oozed a strong odor which suggested he hadn’t had a shower for days on end. His feet were black as charcoal. His skin was dark and squalid. His body odor could be inhaled from as far as ten feet away.
Our reporter lives in a slum community in the Sinkor belt. His residence is sandwiched by ghettos as it is of idle youth who spent hours using recreational drugs such as marijuana and also using opioids such as Tramadol etc.
Immediately, I ordered the officers to arrest him. Hurriedly, we got on a bike and whisked ourselves away from what was a brewing storm that was already placing our lives at risk.
In Liberia, issues surrounding LGBT are risky to discuss as they are dangerous for a person to be identified. The consequences of that are death at the hands of an incensed mob or other forms of harm, and bullying.
We were taken to the headquarters of the Liberia National Police with one of the suspects whose arrest I had ordered in tow. On the grounds of the Police HQ, we headed for the charge of quarters where the case had been registered.
Going through the preliminary proceedings, the desk officer realized the enormity of the case was beyond his scope of authority. He transferred the case upstairs to the Special Investigation Unit (SIU).
Upstairs, we were met by an investigator who identified himself as Boley. Judging from his physical countenance, it was obvious to me that he has a considerable amount of years under his belt in the force. His brownish and reddish eyes showed years reeked from alcohol, cigarettes, and experience.
Speaking in a raspy tone, he ushered us, alongside the suspect, into his dingy office. Also in his office were two individuals who, I assumed, had either come with a case, under investigation or visiting a person remanded in the Police slammer. Anyways, that was none of my business.
Inspector Boley immediately began a further preliminary investigation into the case. He asked for an explanation. Our staff, who was/is the complainant, explained. Thereafter, Insp. Boley turned to the suspect to explain.
The suspect, who identified himself as “Devil Face” could not offer a word of explanation. Inspector Boley, exasperated by the lack of response from him, brought out what appeared to be a black-wired cane.
“Tell me why you want to burn the man’s house!” he shouted. His voice was thunderous. It was as if the roof of the massive Police fortress would come crashing down when he bellowed. Still no response from the suspect.
When his query didn’t elicit another response, he reverted to his black cane switch by giving “Devil Face” two solid strokes on his arms.
“Devil Face” began to cry. However, Inspector Boley was unmoved by his tears. I figured that after years on the job, tears and emotions were something Inspector Boley had gotten used to seeing. I stared silently.
As things went underway, Inspector Boley revealed that his desk has been loaded with cases of arson with the most recent being the chairman of the former ruling Unity Party whose house was gutted with fire under circumstances deemed mysterious.
Hitting “Devil Face” with another stroke of his wired cane, the suspect could not say much, except that they were numbered 10 when they pelted the roof of our reporter’s residence with stones on the rainy morning of Flag Day (August 24).
Tired of the lack of response thereof, Inspector Boley told us to return the next day to continue the investigation. Devil Face was taken downstairs to be remanded in the smelly slammer on the ground floor.
On Thursday, August 25, I accompanied our reporter to the Police headquarters. When we approached Inspector Boley’s office, another officer was seated behind the desk. We briefed him about our case and the essence of our presence.
He seemed a bit befuddled as it was apparent Inspector Boley had forgotten to brief him at the end of his shift. Anyways, he said the case, which involved the threat of arson, was also beyond their scope of authority.
He accompanied us to the office of R-9. There he briefed another officer on the nature of the case. By then, it was in the afternoon hours. We were asked to sit and wait for R-9.
After an hour of waiting with no one paying us any attention, it was apparent that R-9 was not returning to his office anytime soon. I became weary.
Furthermore, it was nearing my class time – I had English and Geography midterm exams to write at the University of Liberia where I am enrolled in the Gender Studies program.
I motioned to our reporter for us to leave. When we got downstairs, I placed a call to a source who works in the Police to ask for the operational number of R-9.
When the number was given to me, I gave it to our reporter to inquire from R-9 about his whereabouts as well as the time he would be returning to his humid office.
R-9 informed our reporter that he was not returning anytime soon. However, he gave our reporter the name of one of his detectives to investigate the case.
Satisfied by this response, I left our reporter and headed for the Fendall Campus of the University of Liberia to write my exams. Our reporter headed back to the office of R-9 to continue the investigation.
Hours later, I called our reporter to ascertain what did the course of the investigation reveal. According to him, the suspect “Devil Face”, 26, revealed that the attack on his residence was spurred by one of his (Devil Face’s”) colleagues.
“He said they were in the ghetto and someone said there’s a faggy [faggot] man in the community who seemed to enjoy being in the presence of other men.”
Our reporter said the investigator told Devil Face that they are not ‘lifestyle police”, going around telling people how to live. According to him, the investigator told the suspect he would be prosecuted for his actions.
And so, according to our reporter “Devil Face” was charged with Terroristic Threat and Criminal Mischief under the penal code of Liberia.
Our reporter was told to report to the HQ of the police on Friday, August 26 so the case could be forwarded to the Monrovia City Court for prosecution.
On Friday, August 26, when our reporter visited the headquarters of the Liberia National Police for forwarding the case, he experienced a roadblock.
The case could not be processed or forwarded due to a technical glitch with the printer. Simply put, the printer in R-9’s office had experienced a malfunction, hence there was no way to print the charge sheet.
Whether there was no printer in the entire building that was functional or the presence of a centralized printing station to print the charge sheet, I am still bewildered just like you who are reading this missive.
Our reporter was told to return on Monday, 29 August 2022. But, it was a violation of suspect “Devil Face’s” right. Under the law, a person cannot be held for more than 72hrs by law enforcement without being charged.
Returning on Monday, August 29, for the printing of the charge sheet, strange things began to unravel.
An investigator in the Crimes Against Person Unit (CAPU) of the Liberia National Police identified our reporter as one of the victims of Cheeseman Cole.
According to our reporter, he corrected the officer that he was not a victim of Cole, but rather the one who broke the story and pushed the victim to come out and testify against Cole.
For context, Cheeseman Cole is a disgraced ex-soldier of the Armed Forces of Liberia who was dishonorably discharged. Cole led a gang on the highway of the Roberts International Airport which targeted men suspected of being gay on Facebook to be robbed and beaten. Cole said he was on a divine mission ordained by God to cleanse Liberia of its LGBT population.
This was in 2020.
Cole’s inhumane antics saw over 27 men suspected of being gay robbed and brutalized. Two years later, two men, Dominic Renner and Winston Toe are still missing from Cole’s psychotic acts.
journalRAGE, via our reporter, played a key role in bringing Cole’s brutality to light. Our reporter, following several interviews with the survivors, pushed and encouraged a lot of them to appear before the Police to tell their stories to have Cole arrested. Our reporter is also a social worker.
Via the instrumentality of our reporter, a total of 9 persons showed up to give their statements to the Police. During the process of the investigation, the investigators were obsessed with the sexuality of the survivors, asking silly and inane questions such as “how do they have sex” etc.
So irritating it was until another officer told them, “these people are victims” and they should instead focus their investigation on the perpetrators of the act—Cheeseman Cole and his gang.
We must hasten to say that without the presence of our reporter to sit through the investigation, most of the survivors would have been uncooperative just as they were hesitant about showing up to give their statements.
And so it was against that backdrop that the Police investigator ,who we now identified as Dickson Dagbe, did not understand our reporter’s role in the investigation. And so by calling or singling out our reporter from a case that the Police are still yet to close, he encouraged his colleagues to have a prejudiced mindset against our reporter by frustrating his quest to get justice.
Following the printing of the charge sheet, Dickson Dagbe who had singled out our reporter told his colleague to re-investigate the case or the complaint brought by our reporter, and investigate our reporter as well.
His rationale, silly as it is/was, our reporter was always associated with gay issues. This happened in the presence of the suspect, “Devil Face.”
Sensing that there was about to be a turnaround in the case, “Devil Face” recanted his early statement to the Police, saying he was allegedly sodomized by our reporter in his residence by using a glass ofß wine.
Sounds unbelievable though, but this is real—a man who took a case of threat on his life to the Police saw his case sidelined due to his alleged sexuality.
I was writing my Foundation of Research exams when my reporter called me to inform me about what was ongoing. I was startled by this.
Quickly, I submitted my paper and made my way from the Fendall Campus of the University to the headquarters of the Liberia National Police.
When I arrived on the grounds of the Police station, I made my way to the Crime Against Person Unit (CAPU) which is on the 2nd floor of the building.
When I entered the investigation room to inquire about the whereabouts of my reporter, an investigator asked me what was wrong. I told him I was in search of my reporter. He did not provide me with any response.
An officer wearing a bluish “pro-poor” suit asked me to enter the room and stand aside. What is going on, I thought. In the room were four investigators and suspect “Devil Face.”
I identified one of the investigators as Dickson Dagbe due to an earlier back and forth on the LGBT issue he had with an acquaintance on Facebook. But as I enter the room, Dickson remarked that I am “one of those.”
As it turned out, Dickson Dagbe is a law enforcement officer with a strong dislike for people perceived to be gay. And it was based on his perception, as you’ll read further in my letter, that my colleague’s quest for justice was quashed.
The officer donning the bluish pro-poor suit turned to Devil Face and asked him whether I was one of those who allegedly sodomized him. “WHAT?!,” I yelled!
Perplexed over the nature of their question, I asked what was ongoing because last I checked I was supporting my reporter in pursuit of his quest for justice, or so we had thought.
Devil Face replied in the negative.
Then it began to dawn on me that this was an orchestrated attempt to thwart a man perceived to be gay from getting justice. And this was a plot which seemed to be hatched Dickson Dagbe and his colleagues in the Crimes Against Person Unit (CAPU).
I have to alert the world about what’s ongoing, I said to myself. Who do I call? Press Union? I thought against it. While I may have received the 2020/2021 Human Rights Reporter Award from the Press Union of Liberia for my reportage on Cheeseman Cole, I am yet to engage them on the nature of the work we do.
As our media organization is still new, we do not have the funds to hire a lawyer on a retainer basis.
I placed a call to Maxwell Monboe, coordinator of LIPRIDE, a coalition of human rights organizations. He furnished me with the contacts of major human rights organizations in Liberia, including the government’s human rights arm.
As I called, I saw a Police source who happens to be a childhood friend. He pulled me aside.
Source: “Gboko, be careful.”
Source: “I was upstairs in one of the offices when the case your reporter brought here was brought up. One of the guys there says that guy [our reporter] can only bring faggy [faggot] case here and they should investigate him.”
Gboko: “Oh really?!”
Source: Yeah. So be careful bro—they might be targeting you guys.”
Gboko: “Don’t worry bro—I am not afraid.”
Source: “Ok bro, [I] just want to warn because we [have] come a long way.”
Gboko: “Thanks buddy, I appreciate it.”
In no time, those colleagues who I had phoned swooped in like an owl after a mouse at the headquarters of the Liberia National Police. They were numbered about seven—a lady and several gentlemen.
At the entrance of the Police, I met them. We made our way to the second-floor office of CAPU. The group of human rights workers was welcomed in and given seats.
I was left to stand—I knew I was persona non grata already. A lawyer amongst the human rights workers who I had called motioned for me to sit on the chair behind me.
The conversation got underway immediately as the guests introduced themselves and the purpose of their mission.
The human rights lawyer asked me to explain. As I did, one of the officers cut me short in my explanation. Well, I thought. He said there was no need for my lengthy explanation.
According to him, the issue at bay was our staff was being investigated for alleged sodomy. He furthered that he had thought our concern would be with Devil Face who had been behind bars beyond the statutory period.
What he failed to mention was it had been they who kept the suspect behind bars for such a long period, technically violating his rights.
After much dillydallying and shillyshallying, the team left with a promise to call back. Suspect Devil Face who was amongst those who stoned our reporter’s residence was set free and asked to show up at the Police HQ the next day so that he could be sent to hospital for a check-up to substantiate his claims of alleged sodomy.
The presence of the human right delegation sent a message that while their so-called investigation wasn’t being objected to, it mustn’t be done based on prejudice or someone wanting to settle a score, perhaps a score from the past.
When the human right team left, one of the officers pulled our reporter aside and told him someone had to come and sign for him to be released. Our reporter said I could do so.
But, according to our reporter, the officer who made the proposition asked that the desk be cleared, meaning we have to pay some bribe. When I got the text from our reporter about what was at bay, I thought that was incredulous. I was incensed.
I told our reporter we would not be a party to such as it presupposed guilt. Immediately, I called the human rights lawyer who had been there earlier. Livid when he heard such, he asked me to place it in writing and promised to call the officers in CAPU.
When I called back, I was informed by the human rights lawyers that the officers were shouting nonsense at him and he was going to come there with his boss, the vice chairman of the government’s human rights arm.
It was evening hours—the sun had settled. My heart raced. I hadn’t eaten since morning. My reporter as well. The Police –the guys in CAPU- had already dragged his little brother as an alleged suspect, too.
What is going on? So, is this how people perceived to be LGBT are targeted? So, what if my reporter and his brother were immolated? Would this be what the Police have to say? This was a question posed by one of the human rights guys during their fact-finding mission. But then I was not surprised because the Police often treat LGBT issues with benign neglect.
Those were the thoughts rummaging through my mind. A steady stream of tears flowed. I lowered my head. I tried to stop it. I was experiencing an emotional breakdown.
We knew the line taken. This has always been the line taken when a person perceived to be LGBT takes a case to the Police. The suspect, acting like someone who’s pleading the fifth, bring up LGBT issue and lies that they were either sodomized or attempts were made.
This was something we have reported countlessly on. For me to experience it was not something I had thought could happen, considering the Police have reportedly been beneficiaries of pieces of training on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
Out of options, I called the human rights lawyer again. He was livid and assured me he was coming over with his boss. I took a stroll down to a nearby shop to await him.
Minutes later, I spotted the white Toyota SUV entering the Police yard. Two gentlemen, one of whom I had recognized as the human rights lawyer, disembarked and made their way to the office counsel for the Police.
There, as I was told by one of the attendees, the attorney for the Police was briefed about what was unfolding. The Police attorney promised to free our reporter the next day as it became clear that it was prejudiced. He said we should report at 9 am the next morning.
And so our reporter spent his first night in the Police slammer on Monday, August 29. I purchased a bowl of fried rice, and cold sodas and took it to him that very night. Unfortunately, I could not give it to him as the fellow who had the cell key was not available, according to an officer on duty.
Frustrated over this, I went home. On August 30, I was up at the Police headquarters early that money to release my reporter. The Police said the suspect who had alleged he was sodomized who be there too, or so they thought.
I waited from 9 am till the afternoon, and he hadn’t shown up. By then, the Crimes Against Person Unit had transferred the case to the Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the Police.
According to my reporter, the officer in the WACPS was livid that his colleagues in WACPS damaged the case of our reporter. He said the officer remarked that the suspect who alleged against our reporter tricked his colleagues to escape.
And escape he did as he did not show up the entire. As the evening hours approached, I called one of our partners and they seconded their lawyer to sign for our reporter.
Our reporter was signed for and told by the Police to report the next day, August 31.
On August 31, our reporter and his brother showed up again, hoping to meet his accuser to begin another round of investigation. He waited for six hours. Still, no sign of Devil Face who alleged he was sodomized. They were later told to leave.
But the actions of the Police allowing suspect Devil Face to escape has placed our reporter in great danger. According to him, when he went home on his day of release, there was a wave of palpable anger in the community.
Suspect Devil Face, upon his release, went back and stirred things up saying he allegedly had the backing of the Police and he use the gay card to be free.
Now, this has placed our reporter in great harm. He can no longer go home, thanks to the Police. He’s hiding in a safe space.
As we are a newly minted org surviving on a tidy grant, we do not have the money and resources to sue the government for this. Like the proverbial ostrich, we are coerced to bury our heads while the tempest rages all about us.
And so it goes.
Gboko J. Stewart