1 February 2013

Liberia: Gov't Releases Detained Rights Activist

The Liberian Government through the Monrovia City Court on Thursday, January 31, 2013 released a rights activist from the custody of the National Security Agency (NSA). The release of Mr. Vandallah R. Patricks, Executive Director of the Concerned Intellectual Association (CIA) was triggered by massive condemnations of the Liberian Government by several Liberians, including renowned Liberian human rights lawyer, Counselor Tiawan Gongloe.

The CIA of Patricks was among several civil society and rights groups that displayed placards at the entrance of the Capitol Building on Monday, January 28, 2013 to express their dissatisfactions about the government. This happened minutes before President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf delivered her Annual Message at the Capitol Building.

The Capitol Building is the seat of the Legislature. On Wednesday, January 30, 2013, Cllr. Gongloe addressed a news conference in Monrovia concerning the arrest and subsequent detention of rights activist Patricks. During the news conference, Cllr. Gongloe described activist Patricks' arrest and detention as "scaring".

The prominent Liberian human rights lawyer told the news conference that he was informed by family sources that rights activist Patricks was arrested 10:00 PM at his Old Road resident by plain clothes security on Monday, January 28, 2013 and placed into a vehicle with license plate RL 52.

Upon receiving the information, Cllr. Gongloe further told the news conference that he immediately called on authorities of the Liberia National Police (LNP) on the matter, but they denied ever having any connection with the arrest and subsequent detention of the rights activist.

He said that he also called authorities of the National Security Agency (NSA), which also denied knowing anything about the arrest and detention of Patricks. However, the acclaimed Liberian human rights lawyer stated that he was informed by the NSA on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 that Mr. Patricks was in its (NSA) custody.

In a chat with journalists yesterday following the release of Mr. Patricks, Cllr. Gongloe disclosed that the government pressed the CIA boss with several charges, including terroristic threat.

But the Liberian human rights lawyer termed the charges by the state as "unrealistic", averring that it is a "cover up for the secret arrest and subsequent detention of an ordinary Liberian citizen". "This is terrible for any democratic government that is elected on the free will and consent of the people. We pray that this does not happen again. Only kings, queens and military dictators can rule the way they want and not democratic leader," he said.

Cllr. Gongloe, who served as Solicitor General and Minister of Labor respectively during President Johnson- Sirleaf first term, indicated that the protection of the rights of every Liberian citizen must be assured by government.

"The violation of the rights of all begins with the violation of the rights of one. When one person rights is violated, everyone should be concerned. This is why I immediately intervened because I am not only a lawyer, but someone who was a victim of such undemocratic act," he said.

He again urged the government to refrain from this, because according him, Liberia is not prepared to return to the "ugly past" when people who spoke against government went missing and only their dead bodies were found.

Cllr. Gongloe pointed out that the action of the government to arrest and detain someone for speaking against it undermines Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution, which talks about freedom of expression.

The Constitution is regarded as the organic law of the country.

"We no longer want to return to the ugly past where Samuel Dockie and others went missing and only their dead bodies were found. We want to go to the promised land of democracy where everyone would be allowed to freely express themselves," said Cllr. Gongloe. Cllr Gongloe said any level of development in the absence of freedom of speech and expression is of no value to the Liberian people.

According to the learned Liberian lawyer, the people of Liberia freely and fairly elected the Unity Party (UP) led in a democratic style, and so it must in return live up to the confidence and trust reposed in it by allowing the people to freely and fairly express themselves without any hindrance.

"It is an irony President Johnson-Sirleaf, who gained political prominence through her many advocacies and protests against past regimes will not tolerate others who speak against her government," he asserted.

"In fact, the placards or press releases issued by this young man have nothing in them that undermine the peace and security of this country. He even in some of his sentences warned Liberians to remain peaceful and calm as they address their dissatisfactions. So, I see no reason why government must have this young man arrested and detained," he amongst other things added.

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