LIBERIA: Police Brutality Resurfaces In Public, As Businesswoman Complains; Police IG To Face Human Rights Probe

Victim: Siah Johnson – “I am feeling the bruises on my body,” said Siah Johnson, as she displays bruises from the assault she claims she received form the police in Duala (Photo Credit: Daily Observer)

According to a local daily, family members of a businesswoman, Siah Johnson, who was allegedly flogged by officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP), just because she was not wearing a face mask, as protection against the COVID-19 Pandemic have threaten to file a lawsuit of human rights violation against the police’s hierarchy.

The incident is believed to have happened early Tuesday, morning, April 28 at the Duala Market, one of the commercial district, outside of Monrovia.

This was after the Police Inspector General, Col. Patrick Sudue publicly announced that people not wearing face masks will not be allowed to walk on the street and that the joint security team would whipped anybody caught in violation of the face mask restriction.

Narrating her ordeal in the hands of the police while she and one of her brothers, Counselor Arthur T. Johnson, left the headquarters of the Liberia National Police (LNP), where they had gone with her complained, Madam Johnson said, “I am feeling the bruises on my body.”

Both Cllr. Johnson and his sister Siah told journalists at the Temple of Justice where they went to begin their legal process against the police that they are going to also file a formal complaint before Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) and there outlining the human rights violation against Siah by the police.

“This is a human rights violation and I am going to file a formal complaint to the Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) and there I will document everything,” Cllr. Johnson told reporters.

According to Madam Johnson, the officers used physical force to remove her from a tricycle (keh-keh) in which she and two other persons including the driver was riding, while on their way to the Duala Market buy her goods there.

“I did not wear my mask but I have it in my bag and I informed the officers about it being there, but they did not listen to me. Instead, they were interested in treating me like this by beating me with the rattan,” Siah claimed.

Madam Johnson also claimed that she lost over US$450 that was in her possession to buy her goods.

“I am feeling the bruises on my body,” said Siah Johnson, as she displays bruises from the assault she claims she received form the police in Duala.

“I had US$450 in my bag and, when a female officer took it from me, I could not find it there,” Siah alleged.

Police Inspector General of the Liberia National Police, Patrick Sudue

Meanwhile, in a telephone conversation with the Daily Observer, on Wednesday, April 29, police spoke person, Moses Carter said, if the accusation is true, then it should be seriously condemned.

“If what is complained is true, then we all should condemn [such act] and those involved be seriously punished,” Carter noted.

Carter, meanwhile, advised Madam Siah to do a formal communication and addressed it to the Inspector General, Patrick Sudue, where she would include and document her accusation against the alleged officers.

“We have a procedure in addressing alleged brutality [by] officers and so, she should write her formal complaint documenting the incident and the name of the officers involved, before the Inspector general can intervene and forward the matter to the professional standard division for proper investigation,” Carter said, adding, “This is the only way the IG would order an investigation into the matter.”

Siah claimed that it was her brother, Cllr. Johnson, who instructed her to file a complaint against the officers at the LNP Headquarters, where she claimed that she sit there for hours without anyone willing to listen to her, which action necessitated the legal decision.

In his swift intervention, Cllr. Johnson vowed that his family would not treat the incident lightly.

“This is a human rights violation and I will make sure it reaches that Independent Human Rights Commission to be documented as police brutality there and before going to the court, even to the Economic Community (ECOWAS) Court, in Abuja, Nigeria,” Cllr. Johnson promised.

Cllr. Johnson said, the decision for enforcement of the violation of the state of emergency does not lie within the discretion or authority of the police director or other police officers.

“It should be a policy decision; the legislature must be clear within the rules that they promulgated and when they said that everybody must followed the health protocol, in the state of emergency,” Cllr. Johnson noted.

He continues that it is the responsibility of the lawmakers to specify the punishment against violators, which was not done.

“Though, the lawmakers did not specify the punishment, and they did not say anyone who violated health protocol must be flogged by officers with rattan,” Cllr. Johnson observed.

He also described the police action against his sister, Siah, as “human rights violation.”

“There should have been a clarity and it should not have been left with the law enforcer to determine it punishment and, since there is no prescribed punishment, the officers should have been made to follow the rule based on strict instruction and not to jump around beating people,” Cllr. Johnson suggested.

Reflecting on the civil conflict, Cllr. Johnson said, these were some of the factors that led to the war and advised state actors to avoid reoccurrence of the past.

“This is not a pre-war period that police officers should use rattan to beat on innocent just for not wearing a mask. This is the mistake that was responsible for the war,” Cllr. Johnson warned, wondering, “Has flogging Siah made the virus to leave the country? Or has using gun also caused the virus to leave Liberia? Why should the police flog people even more than they do to suspected criminals and armed robbers.”

According to Cllr. Johnson, during the COVID-19 pandemic period police officers should be professional in the way they apply the state of emergency in order for citizens to have confidence in them. He believes that flogging people with rattan as a way of maintaining the pubic heath order for not wearing mask, is questionable.

According to Johnson, it is time for police officers to exhibit professionalism because they are one of the security institutions in the region to have benefited from foreign professional mentoring and training.

“The officers should be professional in the way they apply the state of emergency in order for citizens to have confidence in them. What is even unfortunate is that the IG Sudue directed the flogging of citizens,” Cllr. Johnson emphasized.

IG Sudue to Face Human Rights Probe

In a related development, the Inspector-General of the Liberia National Police (LNP), Patrick Sudue together with several others officers to include Walter B. Wrat, assistant director for operation (code #105) are to shortly appear before the Independent National Commission of Human Rights of Liberia (INCHRL) in connection to a complaint filed to the commission, accusing them of being involved with human rights violation in the enforcement of the state of emergency particularly, the wearing of face masks.

Sudue’s appearance resulted from a complaint filed by Counselor Arthur Johnson, who accused six (6) police officers, including two females, of flogging a lady identified as Siah Johnson Dweh (relative of Cllr. Johnson) for not wearing a face mask while in public.

However, the Montserrado County Attorney, Cllr. Edwin Martins, believed to be the lawyer of Sudue, when he appeared before the Truth FM Radio Station phone-in program, challenged any institutions including the INCHR to cite Sudue for an investigation over human rights abuses.

Defending Sudue’s action, Martins argued that Sudue is ensuring the full implementation of the state of emergency as pronounced and mandated by President George Weah, and at no time will he (Sudue), be allowed to address any human rights violation complaint filed by anyone, including Cllr. Johnson, to the Human Rights Commission.

“Sudue is now focusing on the President’s mandate and will not be investigated by any institution and if anyone believed that he committed any human rights violation, let that person go to the court,” Martins said in defense of Sudue’s non-compliance posture.

The incident happened on Tuesday, April 29 by 6:30 a.m., in front of the Kanga, building, opposite the Lone Star office, in the St. Paul Bridge Community, Bushrod Island, outside of Monrovia.

“IG Sudue under the doctrine of respondent supervisor for his issuance of wrongful orders to six (6) officers that they should flog and beat who they observed failed to fully observe the health protocol and failure to wear face mask,”  Cllr. Johnson claims in his complaint, captioned: “Human rights violation (cruel, torture and inhumane treatment, police brutality and abuse.”

Johnson’s complaint continues, “Sudue is liable for human rights abuse on grounds that the officers in question were under the his chain of command and authority and performing under his instruction.”

“Sudue (left) has no backing in law, both national and international, to authorize the whipping and flogging of Liberian citizens for alleged violation of health protocols to wear the face mask,” Cllr. Johnson said.

The complaint further alleges that Sudue in justifying his human rights violation was heard on the Truth FM Radio Station, where Cllr. Johnson quoted Sudue as saying, “that he authorized his LNP officers to beat and whip Liberian citizens who they believed in their discretion were not following the health protocol(s) for the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Cllr. Johnson’s complaint argued that Sudue has no authority to authorize police officers to use the whip and flog alleged violators of the health protocol, of which Johnson claimed that Siah was in compliance with health protocol.

Assistant Director Wrat, Cllr. Johnson said, is a direct supervisor of the six officers who allegedly brutalized Madam Dweh on Tuesday morning, April 29, “and he deliberately failed to address the plights and abuse that was meted against the lady, because she did not have face mask worn.

“Sudue has no backing in law, both national and international, to authorize the whipping and flogging of Liberian citizens for alleged violation of health protocols to wear the face mask,” Cllr. Johnson said.

Cllr. Johnson’s complaint grew of an incident that took place on Tuesday, morning, April 29, by 6:30 a.m., in which one of his sisters, Siah Johnson Dweh, told him that while on her way from her St.Paul Bridge residence, she came across six police officers, two of who were female, with one being an officer of the Police Support Unit (PSU), who Siah identified as Kemah Binda, inflicted serious bodily injuries on her (Siah’s) body and allegedly stole US$480, thereby constituting human rights violation.

Madam Dweh further explained that on her way to the Waterside Market riding in a tricycle (keh-keh) with other passengers on board, they were stopped by the six officers including Kemah, one of the female officers, and they were asked out of the keh keh, an order to which they peacefully complied.

Thereafter, she alleged, she was asked by one of the officers, who she could physically identify, about her face mask.

In response, Siah claimed that she told the officers she had forgotten to wear the mask and it was in her bag. Unfortunately, Siah claimed that while she attempted and bend on her knees to take the mask from her bag and wear it, in compliance of the instruction given to her by the police commander, who also she could not identify, she unexpectedly received a whip on her back by Officer Kemah. Thereafter, the other officers jumped on her and started whipping her on her back and all over her body, resulting in her sustaining bruises and bleeding.

While being brutalized by the officers, Siah claims that her US$480 fell on the ground including some unaccounted Liberian dollars banknotes. Officer Kemah took away the United States dollar portion and defiantly refused to hand it over to her.

“Kemah started to rain insults at me throughout the time I was taken to the Headquarters of the LNP,” Siah claimed.

Cllr. Johnson also alleged that while Siah and the accused officers were at the police headquarters, the authority there displayed absolute disregard for the human rights of the victim and refused to intervene.

“Siah stayed at the headquarters for more than five hours without redress and I was compelled to file this complaint against them because, up to the filing of this complaint, Siah continues to suffer bodily injuries and pain, as a consequence of the brutality meted out against her by the officers that were acting under the instruction of the IG Sudue,” Cllr. Johnson’s complained alleges.

Source: Daily Observer

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About Cholo Brooks 12137 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.