Citizens of Butaw District in Sinoe County are said to be living in fear due to the huge presence of armed police officers in the district who are reportedly bent on intimidating and harassing them.
Due to the alleged intimidation at the hands of Police officers led by Assistant Police Director for Operations Gregory O.W. Coleman, the citizens are appealing to authorities of the Liberia National Police (LNP) to withdraw the armed police officers roaming in the district. The citizens alleged that armed police officers are intimidating and instilling fear in local residents across the district.
They told reporters in separate interviews on Saturday, May 30, 2015 in Butaw that officers of the Police Support Unit (PSU) and Emergency Response Unit (ERU) of the LNP have arrested several innocent persons over night from their respective homes.
According to them, over 200 residents have deserted the district and are seeking refuge in the forest for fear of being arrested and beaten by riot police officers who are carrying out house to house search in the area.
N. Togba Bestman, Butaw District Commissioner said some of those arrested by the police include women whose husbands were allegedly involved in the protest.
According to him, one of the women was released on Saturday, following two nights of detention at the police station in Greenville City.
Commissioner Togba disclosed that the district has requested the county administration to reduce the pressure by withdrawing the police from the area.
He wants the police to stop overnight arrest of people in the district, because according to him, "it is instilling fear in local residents of his district".
Commissioner Togba also claimed that almost all of those arrested were flogged and tortured by the police.
He indicated that private homes were broken into allegedly by the police and GVL security guards in the absence of a writ of search and seizure from the court.
"Armed policemen backed by GVL security guards forcefully entered our homes and said that they are searching for GVL properties, but they didn't specify, which properties they were looking for," Commissioner Togba said.
Benedict Manewah, one of those whose homes was raided at night by the police told journalists from his hideout that he fled into the forest when a group of ERU officers stormed his home at midnight in an attempt to have him arrested.
Manewah, leader of Abloteh, a local rights group in Butaw District said he was not part of the protest staged by the Butaw Youth Association.
He disclosed that as a prominent youth of the district, he helped to reduce the tension, which was instigated by police officers deployed on the scene of a peaceful protest.
Mr. Manewah alleged that the demonstration turned violent when the police started discharging their weapons and tear gas to disperse a group of protesters who gathered at the entrance of the company.
He wondered why the police are after him when he was in fact helpful in negotiating the release of an expatriate GVL worker held by a group of protesters.
Manewah also explained that he and over 200 members of the community who fled into the bush are living in fear due to constant nighttime harassment and intimidation from the police.
He wants the international community to intervene in the matter. But Assistant Police Director for Operations Gregory O. W. Coleman has issued an ultimatum to those hiding in the forest to turn themselves over to the police.
Coleman said failure to do so will leave the police with no alternative, but to pursue them in their hideout.
"We have asked the local leaders and families of those wanted to turn them over to the police," Coleman insists.
The Assistant Police Director dismissed claims that people were flogged and tortured by officers adding "It was a riot; people might have sustained injuries while running into the bush."
He disclosed that he had a meeting with the locals of Butaw and assured them that the police will protect their basic human rights.
Sinoe Superintendent Thomas Romeo Quiah said the protest was illegal because the protesters failed to secure a permit from the Ministry of Justice.
According to him, the violence started before the arrival of the police, disclosing that his vehicle's windshield was damaged in the process.