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Political Witch Hunt In Liberia: The Case of Former Finance Minister Amara Konneh

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It is not so easy to uncover a political prosecution, especially when it is being conducted in grandiosity. There are some Liberians who argue that President Weah government is not witch-hunting his political opponents. But there is a module for identifying which threat of prosecution is politically motivated and which is not. When I studied Intelligence Analysis and International Relations, I had the opportunity to learn and experience a lot of awesomeness; some actually frightening due to the skills and training, and exposure to a world beyond everyday happenings. Profiling world leaders to accurately predict their actions and responses under various real-life scenarios; as well as engaging in intelligence gathering and analysis tradecraft. Comparative politics came in handy in grasping international relations, and learning to recognize a political witch-hunt or political prosecution from start to end.


By Amara Kamara, [email protected], Contributing Writer


Not to burden you with entire coursework on political persecution, prosecution, and the use of the judiciary as a tool for the state, I have narrowed down 7 key issues to look for as an investigator (or any curious person for that matter) in discerning the actions of the rulership in Liberia. There are more than 7 issues but I am limiting the post to 7 based on the stage at which the Amara Konneh issue is at at the time of this writing. Each of the issues is accompanied by corresponding questions that help you make sense of it and determine the political nature of the government’s prosecution:

IDENTITY OF THE ACCUSED

People get accused and arrested almost daily. Some are targeted while others aren’t. But the identity of the accused provides the initial piece of evidence in understanding if the government’s action against an individual is politically motivated or not:

1️. Is the accused an opposition political figure?

2️. Is he a member of an ethnic/religious minority with a history of persecution in the country? 

3️. Even if not a political figure, has the accused criticized the Government or is there reason to believe that he could be a threat to the Government in a political way?

4️. Is the accused seeking election to political office?

The answer to all of the above is a resounding “YES.” Amara Konneh is all of the above. This is the first step.

NATURE OF THE CHARGES

The email exchanges between the Solicitor General Sayma Cephus and former Finance Minister Amara Konneh is revealing of the political nature of the government’s effort. Cephus charges that Konneh “threw a stone” (as in committed a crime) and “hide his hands.” In a recent press briefing, Cephus and the prosecuting lawyer Arthur Johnson singled out Konneh and threatened indictment accusing Konneh of pocketing 500million dollars and also being responsible for the disappearance of 4.6 billion dollars. Additionally, a “Person of Interest” list was released nearly two months before the press briefing to explain processes and criteria. Other questions to consider in understanding the political nature of charges include:

1️. Is allegation charged commonly?

2️. Are the criteria for charging the crime evident? 

3️. Has the crime in question been charged regularly in connection with political cases?

NB: One recurrent approach involves corruption or other “economic crime” charges that are widely used to hunt and weed out political opponents.

TIMING AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS AND CHARGES. 

The timing of the accusation is crucial: 

1️. When was the probe initiated and how did it come to be initiated? (Remember: this probe was initiated following the opposition’s June 7 protest. On June 19, the government made the announcement to investigate former officials in the last 10 years.)

2️. Does it comply with established procedures and rules governing investigations?

3️. Are there parallels between this timeline and potentially relevant political events, particularly elections and election campaigns?

Note the propensity of disqualification here. Obviously, when charges are brought against an opposition political candidate during an election cycle, the government’s intent is to seek the candidate’s disqualification. My fear here is that the government will bring charges against Konneh in advance of the election cycle so as to render him disqualified for running for office. This is particularly certain because the solicitor general Cephus and his co-counsel Johnson’s departures from the rules are indicative of the prejudice against Konneh’s rights.

CIRCUMSTANCES OF INVESTIGATION; ARREST AND DETENTION; MEDIA DEALINGS

No arrest and detention has occurred yet although there are indications of the government’s determination to do so. The presence of the investigation in the media and how Cephus and Johnson have staged media events coupled with persecutory utterances and threats, arrest and detention are main goals if not the only ones. We can ask the following question to further discern the circumstances of the investigation:

1️. Have intrusive investigations been conducted?

2. Does the investigation appear geared to disrupting the political figure’s work and political ambition or plan? 

3️. Does it appear geared to embarrassing the accused for election?

4️. Do media accounts bear any relationship to a political program or campaign which the Government is mounting?

PARALLEL PUBLIC CAMPAIGNS

Consider carefully whether the prosecution tracks any political activities or maneuvers which are being run by the Government or the Government party:

1️. Is the accusation or threat of prosecution being cited as evidence of “corruption” by the government?

2️. Does the Government appear to have access to the prosecution’s evidence?

3️. Does it have prior knowledge that charges will be brought?

4️. Is this information used for a political purpose?

While the Cephus and Johnson went on live media to state that they have evidence to indict Konneh, they failed to provide even a piece of paper to the Konneh’s lawyers when they were contacted.

MEDIA COVERAGE

Particularly where there are several state media, consider carefully the tone and tenor of the media coverage:

1️. Does the media flavor the allegation or criminal case in political tones by stressing, for instance, the political affiliation of the accused, by using a word like “corrupt” and by generally tendentious reporting?

2️. Does the media have prior knowledge of criminal investigations, of charges brought, of evidence which will be used?

3️. Does the media quote Government officials or prosecutors in connection with pending cases?

When the media that align with the government tries the accusation as a case to the public in advance of the trial, building public sympathy or support for the accusation or charges, this is a strong indicator of a politically motivated prosecution.

CONCLUSION

It is frequently impossible to form useful views as to the guilt of the accused. Liberians need to approach the failing Weah government’s accusation with a healthy level of skepticism when political opponents of the government are involved.

In the words of former US Attorney General Robert Jackson, in a modern society with a sweeping criminal code, virtually every citizen can be found to have transgressed a criminal law at some point. Liberians should question the motives and conduct of the government. Ask aloud, is the solicitor general investigating and acting on a crime, or is he “out to get” an individual

So far, all indications point to the fact that the Solicitor General “out to get” former minister Konneh of a political agenda, and all well-meaning Liberians should be enraged by the act of prosecution that is an assault on our democratic institutions.

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