Liberia: We Don't Want Political Prisoners

Opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) political leader Alexander Cummings warns government against introducing the culture of imprisoning critical voices as political prisoners.

"We do not want to start the trend of having political prisoners in our country," Mr. Cummings said Wednesday June 12, during a visit at the Monrovia City Court to support a cause for some 20 detained students to be released to their lawyers.

"I think we got good news that the students will be released today. I just came to provide my support and nothing else," Mr. Cummings told a brief interview Wednesday, 12 June after attending a Court's hearing concerning the student's detention.

Roughly two days to the June 7, 2019 peaceful protest here last week, police arrested some students and supporters of Montserrado County Rep. YekehKolubahwho stormed the police headquarters in demand of the lawmaker's immediate release, while he and his private security guards were being investigated.

Rep. Kolubah is a key critic of President George Manneh Weah and his government, and also a key planner of the June 7 Save the State peaceful protest.

Rep. Kolubah and his private security guards were investigated by police in the week leading to the June 7 protest and charged with terroristic threat and criminal facilitation on grounds that one Emmanuel Freeman had been brutalized for refusing to receive the June 7 Save the State protest T-shirt from Kolubah's men.

However, Mr. Cummings bluntly tells the interview Wednesday that "we're in a political environment unfortunately," and he believes that "there is some elements of politics with regards to these young people" who have been held in detention.

"I just came to provide support ... to the students, uh, that's simple ... I am hopeful that they will be released today," says Mr. Cummings.

After lawyers met with City Court Magistrate J. Kennedy Peabody, Mr. Cummings told journalists that the positive outcome of the meeting was that the magistrate would have approved the bond and the students would have been released Wednesday.

At least 15 of those detained were reported to be released later on Wednesday.

Earlier in an interview with protesters outside the court, opposition Unity Party (UP) youth leader AlphonsonBelleh, II, said the protesters consider the case as a political situation and therefore they are "using a political means now to call the attention of the government to see reason to allow our colleagues [to be] released and turned over to our lawyers."

"... Or else, we'll cause civil disobedience. The civil disobedience is demonstration, protest until our colleagues are released, because our colleagues [have] now been turned into political prisoners," Belleh explains.

Expressing the protesters' frustration, Mr. Bellehexplains that the case was due to be heard on Tuesday, but the magistrate had allegedly indicated that the case file was taken away by the county attorney.

There were uncertain about the students' case being heard on Wednesday, according to Belleh who told journalists that their lawyer, Cllr. LavelaSupuwood had earlier informed them that he was not sure that the case would have been heard.

Riot police officers were immediately deployed at the Temple of Justice where the protest was being held. However, there was no clashes between the police and the protesters.

The officers departed after protesters jubilantly escorted their lawyers and court officers to the Monrovia Central Prison where the detained students were due to be released.

Earlier on Monday, 10 June when Magistrate Peabody presided, he notes that he made an offer according to law for the defendants to be signed for by their legal representative.

Magistrate Peabody notes that unfortunately, that did not happen because the lawyer representing the defendants refused to sign for them.

He lashes out against insinuation that the Monrovia City Court refused to release the defendants, warning that the "news", the "disinformation" and "misinformation" undermined the court and the rule of law as it relates to justice.

Magistrate Peabody emphasizes that the court is a neutral party, and some of the defendants involved are citizens of the Republic who are to enjoy the law of the Republic.

He notes that had the offer been accepted by the defendants' lawyer to sign for their release, "we" wouldn't have been at the court on Wednesday.Magistrate Peabody further warns lawyers and political leaders that the court is for the citizens and those residing here.By Winston W. Parley

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