Liberia: 'Disorderly Conduct' Led to the Use of Teargas, Water Canon On Peaceful Protesters

Liberian police (file photo).

Monrovia — Everything was calm and going on admirably until the protestors began to cook on the street that lies between the Executive Mansion and the Capitol Building. They had no new petition to present to the government, but insisted they would remain on the streets until President George Weah responded to the demands made in the June 7 'Save the State' protest petition.

The government, through the Ministry of Justice, had warned against Monday's protest. The ministry had opted that the protest be held on Saturday, January 4. But the Council of Patriots maintained that if the government can provide security for them on Saturday, it should also be able to provide them security on Monday.

Abridged Demands

According to the Council of Patriots, during the mediation of the Inter-Religious Council and the international community, they resubmitted their requests to the government - this time streamlining them to five major concerns they want addressed. They had said they would have called off the protest if President Weah had agreed to make some concessions to them.

Amongst their request were the call for the dismissal of Mr. Samuel Tweah as Minister of Finance and Development Planning, the publication of the President's asset declaration forms, making the investigative report of the US$25 million mob-up exercise public, an investigation into the L$16 billion saga and more support to the gender division of the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection.

Security Provided

Despite expressing its disappointed over the adamant posture of the COP to stage the protest on Monday, the police and other security apparatus guarded the protestors as they marched towards the Capitol chanting and singing anti-government slogans and songs.

The Capitol Building is the focal point of protests in Liberia.

Said the MoJ statement: "International best practices and Liberian law do not preclude restrictions on place, time or manner of mass protests; provided the restrictions or requirements serve a legitimate public interest, such as public safety, and to guarantee that the rights of others are not infringed upon, such as the right of freedom of movement which is also guaranteed in Liberia's Constitution. In short, the government would not seek to restrict the right of small numbers of individuals to assemble at any time; however, mass protests in the capital city require prior approval, as government must provide security."

Things Went Wrong

Having fed on bread and sausages during the morning and afternoon hours of protest, they were gearing up for the evening by cooking rice - right on the street where they had gathered.

Everything was calm until that moment when the police began asking them to stop the cooking which they refused.

This prompted the police to fire teargas and use water canon at the protestors to disperse the crowd. They fled as the police chase after them off the street from Capitol Hill down Buzzy Quarter and UN Drive.

The Police in a statement stated, "At 5:00 PM, the situation became worst when some protesters began lighting fire in front of the Capitol Building aimed at cooking food for their supporters.

"Officials of the Joint Security including the Independent Human Rights Commission made all frantic efforts to have them put off their fire but to no avail. The situation left state security with no option but to use less force through the means of tear gas and the water canon to cut the fire off and disperse the crowd.

Efforts on the part of the Joint Security to disperse the crowd and cut the fire off led to members of the Joint Security coming under attack."

Speaking on the incident, Mr. Henry Costa, Chairman of the COP said at a post-protest news conference, "Our peaceful protest ended in an onslaught by the State. Our people were peaceful until they were provoked and teargassed and several of them got wounded. We have been told at least five of them are in police custody and for what?"

No Attack on LNP During Teargas Saga

Meanwhile, contrary to the LNP assertions that the protesters attacked the anti-riot Police, live footage from the scene showed that the police were not attacked.

Our reporters gathered that following the Police arrival with the water cannon, there was no warning given to the protesters. The crowd assembled in front of the water truck and the anti-riot police, waving the Liberian Flag and began chanting "We want Peace."

It did not take long, according to our reporters when the Police began spraying the water cannon on the protesters and shooting live tear gas bullets.

This sent a wave of pandemonium among the scores of protesters including Rep. Yekeh Kolubah and Telia Urey, who all ran for refuge as the police chased them down Buzzy Quarter and Camp Johnson Road.

After the crowd had dispersed, the Police began impounding the vehicles left by the protesters. Rep. Kolubah's car was impounded and his driver and others who were around were caught and whisked in it and taken to the Police headquarters.

Teargas Use Provoked

Mr. Lenn Eugene Nagbe, Minister of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), who suggested in a Facebook post that the teargas and water had been sprayed because protesters had begun to light fire, told FPA that the Weah administration remains committed to democratic norms.

Said Minister Nagbe: "The Police have been providing security for both the COP folks and the rest of the citizens who wanted to go about their normal businesses since 7am this morning. In spite of the rowdiness by the COP, obstructing traffic on the bypass and parts of UN drive, the police maintained a passive posture. When the COP provocateurs decide to light fires on Capitol Hill, and pose imminent danger to lives and property, even then the police did not act immediately."

The minister said the police asked the COP protesters to stop such unacceptable actions to no avail. "The religious leaders even interceded to no avail. The COP persisted in putting lives at risk. The police therefore applied appropriate force to forestall danger and disperse them. As a government, we respect democracy, we respect the exercise of freedoms and will protect and defend all citizens in the exercise of all rights. However, the government will not bend in performing its responsibilities to protect the peace and security of the state."

Cooking on the Street Not New to Protest

In December last year, anti-government protesters demonstrating for a better future for Iraq, were seen cooking in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. Tahrir Square has been the focal point for the protests that have continued to roil Iraq since Oct. 1, 2019.

From stuffed lamb and fish, to the giant pots of soups and rice, to the plates of lentils and other beans, there is no shortage of food to go around. Volunteers from the capital and southern provinces cook traditional dishes that reflect the country's rich cuisine and bring protesters together.

The spontaneous, leaderless demonstrations were organized on social media over long-standing grievances including government corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services. For many, the square in central Baghdad has become a miniature model for the kind of state they dream of, where factional and sectarian politics play no part and public services exist.

Apparently, the protesters were inspired by the aggrieved people of Baghdad and had thought they would have been allowed to carry on their cooking.

So confident were the protesters on Capitol Hill that even when news of a Police reinforcement ordered by President Weah was approaching to forcefully remove the protesters from the arear, they laughed and ignored the warning.

Rep. Kolubah was repeatedly heard informing the crowd that he was receiving intel from of an imminent forceful eviction and arrest.

He, joined by former District #15 Representative Candidate Telia Urey vowed to stay with the protesters and exercise their constitutional rights.

Little did they know that cooking on the grounds of the Capitol was a 'dangerous play' and the Police was determined to remove them at all cost.

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