Freedom for the Remaining Liberian "Political Prisoners" Now!
(A Position Statement By the Liberian Democratic Future, LDF)
November 12, 2001
We are troubled by the mixed messages, double standards, deceit and hypocrisy of the Taylor Administration on issues of national concern. Even as the regime proclaimed a month of reconciliation, and now seeks to participate in a global anti-terrorism campaign, many Liberians continue to languish in prison because of their political belief, ethnic affiliation and bogus charges made against them, including but not limited to treason, sedition, contempt and espionage.
We note with deep concern the continued incarceration of Raleigh Seekie and the remaining ten Krahn political prisoners who have been in prison and most recently, the leaders of the Liberian National Bar Association, Counselors Marcus Jones, Vice President of the Bar and Ishmael Campbell, President of the Montserrado Bar Association. For instance, Raleigh Seekie has been incarcerated since August 2000 without being tried or convicted of a crime. We also note that President Taylor has locked up individuals he considered his enemies without due process of the law. In this respect, what will it take to jar the attention of our elected officials (especially, the Liberian Legislature) to the act against the violation of the civil and constitutional rights of Seekie and Taylors imaginary enemies?
Despite the fact that the Liberian Constitution provides for the co-equal nature of the three branches of the government Judiciary, Legislative and the Executive the Executive branch has arrogated unto itself and usurped the power of the other two branches. This has created a system in which there is a lack of checks and balances, and where there is the nonexistence and absence of a clear distinction between each branch. The Legislators who are supposed to formulate the laws, have themselves become law breakers; while the Judiciary as interpreter of the law, has compromised its constitutional responsibility, ceding its independence to the Executive.
Meanwhile, President Charles Taylor runs the country as a dictator, with the blessing of the Legislature, Judiciary and yellow journalists (hired pens) that served as his "cheering squad" preoccupied with blaming everybody but the President for his failed policies. As such, these individuals refused to accept the truth regarding the government. Notwithstanding, the truth will always be true, regardless of whose side you are on.
Taylor realizing that the truth shall win in the end, granted amnesty, clemency or pardon to individuals falsely charged with sedition and treason. Such gestures, we believe are usually applied to individuals or group who have taken up arms against a government; but not individuals who have been jailed without due process of the law. Perhaps, the government implored this method to divert attention from its dismal performance and poor human rights records.
Judging from the present condition in Liberia, it is safe to say that nothing has really changed since the days of President William V. S. Tubman. Perhaps, this is the reason, individual like Raleigh Seekie and the ten prominent Krahn political prisoners sentenced to 20 years by Taylor's courts and others we do not know about are still locked up in Monrovia's prison cells awaiting the "blessings" of Taylor or another "selective amnesty" to set them free.
Not so long ago, Raleigh Seekie who served, as the first Chairman of ULIMO during the civil war, and then Governor of the National Bank during the transitional government has been held incommunicado in prison. After the 1997 elections, Seekie joined the NPP government as Auditor General. He was arrested, while serving as Taylor's Auditor General, charged with treason and thrown into jail since.
Similarly, Counselors Marcus Jones and Ishmael Campbell have been held in prison for almost a month and have been denied their rights to due process their fundamental rights to counsel, to be confronted by their accusers and to be heard before being condemned.
Considering the treason charge, in August 2001, the legal counsel for Raleigh Seekie and five others detained at the Monrovia Central Prison on charges of treason filed a motion to dismiss the charges against the detainees. According to the Inquirer Newspaper, the motion to dismiss the charges was filed on behalf of the defendants by their legal counsel, Attorney T. Dempster Brown of the Center for the Protection of Human Rights (CPHR), to the Criminal Court "A" of the First Judicial Circuit in its August Term.
Furthermore, the motion to dismiss contends that Jardia Farley, Charles Soubue, Kayee Gbagba, Alpha Massalay, Roosevelt Togba and Raleigh Seekie were arrested and subsequently detained in November 1998 and August 2000 respectively and charged with treason. The motion to dismiss further noted that defendant Raleigh Seekie contends and avers that since he was indicted, it has been four succeeding terms of court without trial in contravention of Article 21, Section (f) of the Liberian Constitution.
Also, the defendants counsel argued that under section 18.2 of the criminal Procedures Law of Liberia, the court has the statutory right to dismiss any proceedings be it treason or any other indictable offense for the prosecution (state) failure to proceed with (trial) prosecution, which violates the constitutional rights of Raleigh Seekie and contravenes the doctrine of the due process of law.
Article 21 Section (f) of the Liberian Constitution states: "Every person arrested or detained shall be formally charged and presented before a court of competent jurisdiction within forty-eight (48) hours. Should the court determine the existence of a prima facie case against the accused, it shall issue a formal writ of arrest setting out the charge or charges and shall provide for a speedy trial. There shall be no preventive detention."
In Mr. Seekie's case no such trial ever took place! On constitutional grounds, the court should have dismissed the charges against Mr. Seekie; dispensing this would have redeemed the "justice system" if it had taken this action. Instead, it sided with the government.
We remember the September 18, 1998, Camp Johnson Road raid staged by Taylor's dreaded, which resulted into the shooting and massive killing of people of the Krahn ethnic group. As a result of the attack, terrified civilians ran into the St. Thomas Church on the same street, government forces stood at the door and shot into the building. Only three persons were reported to have survived out of the sixty who sought refuge.
Additionally, a battalion of government troops searched the Camp Johnson Road area in central Monrovia (a huge population of displaced lived in this area) - a house-to- house search - for Krahns and arms. Krahn men were taken away and women were manhandled and raped. Properties were looted everywhere. Those who were abducted were never seen again. It was later reported that they were killed behind the Executive Mansion at night.
Targeted and profiled, most Krahn people went into hiding for fear of being killed. Their homes were broken into and properties vandalized. Associates of Roosevelt Johnson and those of key opposition members were summarily arrested and brutally flogged. Despite government denial, eleven Krahn army officers, including Thomas Doeway and Omezee Saydee, were taken from the post-stockade at night and executed two days after the main incident on Camp Johnson Road, according to well-placed sources.
In a nation-wide radio statement shortly after the attack, President Charles Taylor congratulated his men for what he described as a "surgical operation with precision and swiftness."
Growing out of this horrendous act in which it variously estimated between 300 to 1,800 people were reported killed compounded by the painful legacy of the seven-year civil war--- has created rift and caused a deepening divide among the populace and in the society, which necessitates a genuine effort towards reconciliation. But "Selective Amnesty", which led to the release of Messers. Bai Gbala, David Gbala and James Chelley, three of the thirteen Krahn political prisoners, and the pardoning of exiled politicians, is a disappointing and insufficient step necessary for healing and bringing about genuine reconciliation.
Contradicting its universal principles, those granted so-called Amnesty, Clemency or Pardon by President Taylor should not have been charged for crimes they did not commit in the first place. The evidence in the public domain is overwhelming that charges leveled against these individuals have no basis in truth, fact or the law.
To further underscore our point, we wish to say that in order for Amnesty, Clemency or Pardon to be granted to a person or a group, the individual or group must have committed a crime for which the President forgives them. Lets look at the reason Amnesty, Sedition, Treason or Pardon is granted.
For example, Amnesty is an exemption from prosecution for criminal acts. Usually, it is issued by a government after a time of crisis such as a war or revolution. Amnesty may be for acts such as rebellion, treason, and desertion. It is usually granted to groups of citizens on condition that they will abide by the law in the future. On the other hand, Sedition is the crime of advocating by words or deeds the overthrow of a government (Laws against sedition in most Western countries have been viewed as potentially dangerous to freedom of speech); while Treason is a crime against the state to which allegiance is owed; it consists of attempting to overthrow the government or betraying it into the hands of its enemies.
Pardon is the same as amnesty. A Pardon, in law, is a release from punishment given by the head of a government. It is granted to an accused that is believed to be innocent or a group may be given conditional Pardon, like in the case where the offenders are required to accept a lesser sentence. For example, President Gerald Ford extended a conditional amnesty to draft resisters and deserters from the armed forces of the Vietnam War period, provided they would agree to work in public service jobs for a specified period.
Based on the various definitions, those who were charged and the current political prisoners did not commit any of these crimes. The so-called evidence provided by Taylor and company will not stand in a true court of justice. It is playing "dirty politics", one day the government charged its imaginary enemies with Treason and Sedition, and another time, they are granted Amnesty, Clemency or Pardon for crimes they never committed. This strategy is similar to one used by William V. S. Tubman, the President whose leadership style, Taylor admired and is emanating.
There are numerous historical antecedents that show a similar pattern of the misuse and abuse of "Presidential Power". For example, according to John Gunther, the author of Inside Africa (a book written in 1953):
"Overt criticism of the President is considered to be sedition, and a person guilty of giving information of a deleterious nature to foreigners is, in theory, subject to a jail sentence. As a result people in Monrovia are somewhat guarded in their expressions of opinion. There is no need Gestapo (as is sometimes alleged) because there is little need to have one; everybody tells Mr. Tubman everything, if only to curry favor. All this being true, it is astonishing that public criticism, of a veiled sort (and never aimed at the President directly), is sometimes heard. One newspaper, a remarkable journalistic phenomenon called the Friend, is not against Tubman, but tries to take its own line. In March, 1953, it wrote that "high job seekers" were among those urging Mr. Tubman to come out for a third term. The President issued a statement denying this and saying that the editor was a disappointed job-seeker himself. The editor replied in a page editorial. "We feel that we owe it to the public to correct the statement made by the President in which he alleges that the editor of the Friend is 'disgruntled, mortified, and chagrined' because of his disappointment in not being appointed consul general to Germany. We call on High Heaven to refute this statement (In other words, the President lie - our comment), and we hasten to make it crystal clear that we are not disgruntled, mortified, or chagrined.
"On another occasion, when this editor was being attacked by the True Whig old guard, he replied, 'There is one object all these super loyal citizens seem to have in view, and that is to increase the President's sensibility and thereby move him to either imprison the editor of the Friend for life or close the Friend or have the Frontier Force shoot the editor down."
In other words, it is a sad commentary for Taylor's hirelings to suggest that the "process leading to the release of the other treason convicts would remain on course. President Taylor's message is clear. So, why this grouse about the definitions of 'Amnesty and clemency'?
Regrettably, Liberian history is replete with stories of how Liberian rulers treat opposition politicians who differ with them or who prefer not to shut their mouths. The opponents are either murdered, charged with treason, imprisoned for time indefinite, or chased out of the country. For example, a case in point is Didho Twe:
"In 1951 Mr. Twe achieved something almost impossible - he organized a genuine opposition party and set out to oppose Tubman for the president. A further miracle might have occurred and he might have won the election, but at the last moment the outraged True Whig forces managed to prevent him from running owing to 'a technicality.' Mr. Twe then charged with sedition, but managed to escape from the country. His movement was called 'treasonable,' and several of his adherents were arrested... The Institute of Ethnic Affairs in Washington petitioned the Human Rights Commission of the UN on behalf of Mr. Twe, who is now living in Sierra Leone. Witch doctors were employed to try to poison Twe, the document alleges. Mr. Twe, who was educated in the United States, wrote Mr. Tubman a perfectly dignified letter (before he fled the country) urging electoral reform. Mr. Tubman's reply was as follows: 'For the present time, my reply to your note is that you are inherently a traitor to your country, a consummate liar, a senile visionary, a sophisticated bigot, and an uncompromising egotist, the truth of which you will be made to realize,'" wrote John Gunther.
It is such undemocratic President (Tubman) that President Charles Taylor called his mentor. Therefore, we wonder why the release of the three men (Messrs. Bai Gbala, David Gbala and James Chelley) is considered a step aimed at "bringing Liberians together to ensure the peace they are yearning for. An effort to promote peace and reconciliation." This step in our view is a half measure that is titillating and deceptive.
We hereby finally resolved that if Mr. Taylor is truly serious about peace and reconciliation, he should not only talk the talk, but also prove it through his actions. In this regard, we call on the Government not to let opportunities for genuine reconciliation and lasting peace elude them. Without delay or further procrastination, we call upon the Taylor regime, to immediately free Raleigh Seekie, Marcus Jones, Ishmael Campbell and the remaining ten Krahn political prisoners. The government should desist from blaming others for its failed policies.
Issued in the supreme interest of the Liberian people, on this 12th day of November 2001, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Siahyonkron J. K. Nyanseor
Editor's note: The Liberian Democratic Future (LDF) is a think-tank, democratic and research organization devoted to Liberia and Africa's democratic future