Liberia: Peaceful Protest Ends in Chaos

Liberian police (file photo).

-- Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue Justifies Reasons for using force against protesters

What initially started as a mass peaceful protest organized by the Council of Patriots on Capitol Hill on January 6 later turned chaotic in the evening hours of the day as officers of the Joint Security immediately began using teargas and a water canon to disperse the crowd.

The actions by the joint security, according to organizers of the protest, were precipitated by the protesters' insistence to cook their food and to spend the night at the protest venue until some of their demands are met or addressed by President George M. Weah.

The peaceful protest took place between the Executive Mansion, which is the official seat of Presidency, and the Capitol Building, the official seat of the Lawmakers.

The Council of Patriots (CoP), headed by popular talk show host, Henry P. Costa, said Monday's protest is in continuation of the June 7, 2019, peaceful assembly aimed at calling on the government to address the economic hardship.

However, some pro-government supporters and onlookers also began chanting, "no more protest, go home."

Prior to the chaos, mainly created by the LNP, District #10 Representative Yekeh Kolubah had told the media that he had gathered intelligence that President Weah had given an order to the police to arrest Henry Costa and other ring leaders of the COP.

Rep. Kolubah said he was informed by some officers of the Liberia National Police, while heading to his residence to return for the continuation of the protest.

He said people working with the President's office were feeding him with information on how the government is "planning to manhandle the protesters in a few hours," a statement that was proven in less than two hours.

According to him, President Weah called on the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) management to switch off the lights around Capitol Hill in order to give the officers the opportunity to carry on some clandestine acts.

"I'm defying the government. They should come and arrest us from among our supporters," Representative Kolubah said, while boasting that he has trained a number of police officers who have called him about the planned arrest of his person, adding that Weah, along with his officers, will not succeed.

The much publicized protest started peacefully early Monday morning and ran well beyond 5 p.m., with protesters chanting slogans and singing songs of protest against the government.

The President of Liberia, George Manneh Weah, who was voted into office in 2017, has been criticized for erecting and renovating several personal properties, allegation that his supporters have denied and claimed that he came with his own money to the presidency.

LNP officers pursue protesters after firing teargas to disperse them.

The Inspector-General of the Liberia National Police (LNP), Patrick Sudue, late yesterday evening explained that the use of force to dismiss the protesters came as a result of the protesters' refusal to quit cooking on the grounds of the Executive Mansion and other state buildings, including the Capitol.

"We told them to stop the use of fire for the cooking of their food but they did not adhere. We called in human rights observers to talk to them, they obeyed but later they reignited the fire. For us, as members of the security apparatus, it was a threat," Sudue said.

Inspector General Sudue, confirmed that several protesters were wounded by the use of teargas, and an additional 18 people arrested by joint security officers during the protest.

Meanwhile, Sudue displayed two shotguns loaded with rounds of ammunition allegedly taken from Montserrado District 10 Representative, Yekeh Kolubah's vehicles.

"These deadly weapons were found in these cars. One of the cars belongs to Rep. Yekeh Kolubah. This is what we have seen," IG Sudue said.

Rep. Kolubah, however, has denied having any gun in his vehicle. He blamed the police of planting the gun in his vehicle, describing it as a calculated attempt on the part of the government to falsely indict him.

"I did not drive my car this morning to get to Capitol Hill. I walked and my cars followed me later. As far as I am concerned, there were no guns in my car. I am not stupid and so they should not think they will get me," Kolubah said.

He said he will not report to the police for any questioning but will proceed to the court with his lawyers.

Speaking earlier to their supporters, Montserrado County Senator Darius Dillon, Henry Costa, Representative Yekeh Kolubah and Telia Urey assured them of all material support in order to maintain the protesters who had vowed to sleep in the streets until President Weah answered their demands.

Mattresses, cooking pots and other utensils were transported by the COP in an attempt to spend the night on Capitol Hill.

During the morning hours, the state security denied the protestors, including Mo Ali, an executive member of the CoP, from gathering at the Capitol Hill.

The standoff between the state security and the early morning protesters came to an end after the intervention of the Deputy Inspector General of Police for Operations, Marvin Sarkor, who walked with the protesters and Mr. Ali to the assembly area.

Police say they decided to disperse the protesters by force because they refused to comply with security advice that no fires should be lit on Capitol Hill.

"The Liberian government cannot allow its security forces to get away with hurting unarmed protesters and attacking bystanders," said one of the protesters who got injured by teargas.

The violence against the protesters yesterday undermines the Liberian Government's legal obligations under several international and African human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which require it to respect the right to life and freedoms of expression and of assembly.

The action of the security forces, according to a Human Rights monitors in attendance, violated those obligations. The Human Rights monitor added that the state security forces did not abide by the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials in policing demonstrations.

"The principles require that law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall as far as possible apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense," the monitor said.

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