Henry P. Costa says there is nothing to stop the December 30 protest from taking place as planned.
CoP says they are "well on course" for December 30 Protest but, MoJ, aiming to "balance the rights of all citizens", wants change of date, venue
Amidst the decision by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to defer permit and protection for the December 30 protest, the Council of Patriots (CoP) says the protest remains well on course as planned.
Henry P. Costa, chairperson of the Council of Patriots and host of the Costa Show, made the remarks Sunday, December 29, at a news conference in Monrovia, which was attended by supporters of the planned protest and the current leadership of CoP.
"I hope we can take tomorrow's moment to reflect on everything, including merry Christmas if anything is merry about this Christmas," Costa told journalists at his Roots FM's office.
He continued: "We have made our case that we want to exercise our democratic right to protest beginning tomorrow, December 30, 2019. And naturally, the government will not want us to protest, but again, the international community has acknowledged our rights to protest."
'Balancing the rights of all citizens'
However, just hours before protesters take to the streets, the Ministry of Justice, in a statement released late Sunday, December 29, called on the CoP to postpone their protest to January 5 and change the venue from the Capitol grounds to the Antoinette Tubman Stadium.
In an elaborate explanation, the MoJ noted that, while respecting the rights of citizens to freely assemble, governments must "adjudicate the application for a mass gathering, on a non-political basis, on the grounds of scale, duration, purpose of the demonstration, as well as the impact on the rights of other citizens to access schools, hospitals, workplaces, courts and other necessary elements of daily life."
In a nutshell, the Justice Ministry aims to "balance the rights of all citizens [which] takes precedence over the preference of one group."
"To that end," the Ministry of Justice release said, "and with the Council of Patriots (CoP) having clarified on December 29, 2019 key logistical details regarding their request to host a peaceful assembly of some "tens or hundreds of thousands" of people on 30 December 2019 in the Capitol Hill area, the Government of the Republic of Liberia has offered and alternative scenario in the coming days that would better ensure the rights and safety of all Liberian citizens. At no cost, CoP may use the Antoinette Tubman Stadium, which is of appropriate size to accommodate such a mass gathering on Sunday, January 5, 2020 at any time after 8:00 a.m. through 8:00 p.m. Counter-protesters who had similarly requested 30 December 2019 would be offered the use of the stadium for the same time frame on the following Sunday, January 12, 2020."
'December 30 well on course'
Meanwhile, Mr. Costa emphasized that yesterday's press conference was intended to reassure the Liberian people that the peaceful protest planned by the CoP is still scheduled for December 30, 2019.
"Over the last several months, we have been mobilizing for a peaceful protest. On June 7, 2019, we organized and held a peaceful protest for the first time in the history of Liberia. We are yet to get any result from the President. We have waited for so long and no action has been taken. We have decided to come back and we are sure that it will not be ignored this time," Mr. Costa said.
The leadership of CoP had earlier called for President George M. Weah to step down as the country experiences extreme economic hardship since he ascended to power for nearly two years. But the group has apparently stepped away from the 'step-down' mantra, yet intensely demanding good governance from the ex-footballer who, they say, has no regard for the rule of law, especially the Constitution. the CoP maintains that "Weah is not able to govern Liberia."
"The CoP was willing to call off the planned protest," Costa said, "if the President was prepared to address the demands of the CoP and was noted by the international delegation that arranged the dialogue. But the President refused; instead he will address or speak to the CoP demands in January.
Attacks against CoP
Meanwhile, Costa says he was "engaged by some of Liberia's international partners about comments made [recently] and I'd like to publicly retract those comments. I did not mean to harm any of our supporters or to cause anybody harm."
Costa was referring to an incident last week, during which he an and his entourage came under attack by alleged supporters of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change as he emerged from his radio station following the last taping of the Costa Show. The attackers, he said, hurled stones at the radio station, injuring one of Costa's bodyguards and severely damaging a vehicle the attackers expected Costa to ride in. However, Costa was sped to safety in a different vehicle.
In a fit of rage over that attack, Costa made remarks to the effect that any repeat of such an attack upon him will cause him to defend himself, even if by "deadly force," he said.
However, a joint response by Liberia's international partners, citing Costa's "inflammatory language, implying that some of his supporters would be armed, and threatening under various circumstances to use deadly force," put pressure on the CoP chairman "to clarify in a public statement that he intends his protest to be peaceful and compliant with the Liberian Law."
Without objecting to the right for citizens to exercise their constitutional rights, the resident diplomats said, "Constitutional rights must be exercised responsibly, in conformity with relevant provisions of law, without jeopardizing the peace, security, and stability of Liberia."
And though he complied, Costa did not fail to highlight that the attacks such as what he experienced at his radio station have remain consistent against him and other members of the Council of Patriots. According to him, the home of Rep. Yekeh Kolubah, another ranking member of the CoP, "has been continuously attacked and we'd like to bring it to the attention of the public," Mr. Costa said.
In a live facebook post on Saturday, December 28, Costa told the world that he received impeccable intelligence that there was an assassination attempt on his life. He said because of the threat on his life, he would limit his interaction with people on the day of the protest.
At the CoP press conference on Sunday, Costa the protest is expected to last for several days and supporters of the protest will converge at the Capitol Hill in central Monrovia, adding that, "Minister Dean has made it clear to Liberia's international partners that the government providing security for the protesters.
He indicated that the CoP's first protest, which took place on June 7, was praised by both local and international partners and that Liberia must continue to take such a path. "We do not intend to even present a petition and continue to call on our supporters to remain peaceful, like what occurred on June 7, 2019," Mr. Costa said.
Meanwhile, The Independent Council of Patriots (ICoP) has called off their counter-protest, which was also scheduled for December 30. The Independent Council of Patriots made the disclosure on Sunday, December 29, in Monrovia during a press conference, while referencing respect for the rule of law.
According to ICoP, the decision based upon a reply to a communication sent to the Ministry of Justice requesting a permit and all security protection.
The group earlier indicated that their decision to stage a counter-protest is triggered by "the pronouncements from remnants of the Council of Patriots that on the date mentioned above they will come on the streets to thwart the Constitution and undermine the peace and stability of the country."
However, despite consultations initiated by local and international partners between the Weah Administration and the Council of Patriots, the Council of Patriots insists that the December 30 protest against President George M. Weah-led administration will take place as planned.
It is still not clear what course of action the Ministry of Justice will take if the CoP's protest continues as planned.