MONROVIA – The July 26 political violence and the humiliation meted on student activist, Christopher W. Sivili, was particularly awful. The footage of his humiliation on social media brought fresh memory of how the late President Samuel K. Doe was treated at the Freeport of Monrovia by General-turned-political Prince Y. Johnson’s men in 1990. Sivili’s treatment on ’26 was almost a redux of the fateful events that led to Doe’s death.
Report by Lennart Dodoo and J. H. Webster Clayeh
Sivili, an enterprising young activist, and an ardent member of the campus-based Student Unification Party (SUP) was among several SUP members who gathered to protest against what they termed as mismanagement of the country by the Weah-led government and thereby gathered before the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia to petition the Embassy to call on President Weah to “Fix the Country”.
What was envisioned to be a peaceful protest on the country’s 175th Independence Day which would have probably gone without notice turned out violent when a splinter group of the ruling CDC known as CDC-COP staged a counter-protest and violently chased the protestors from SUP from before the U.S. Embassy. The case was also characterized by stone throwing.
Sivili was the unluckiest. He attempted to escape the wrath of these anti-protestors by running through the shanty buildings neighboring the Embassy. He was chased by scores of these fanatics of the ruling party.
Sivili was overpowered, slapped several times, stoned, beaten, and stripped naked, all on camera. Helplessness could be clearly seen in his face, he cried and pleaded for mercy, but to no avail. He is now being treated at an undisclosed medical facility.
The Police’s Game
The cold-hearted treatment of Sivili was greeted with condemnations from Liberians from all spheres of life with many calling on the police to arrest all those necessary for the violence and have them face justice. The list of those condemning the violence includes the Liberia Council of Churches, the Alternative National Congress, the Unity Party, the Liberty Party, the Coalition for Democratic Change, the Council of Civil Society Organizations, among others.
Despite these calls, the Liberia National Police in a statement disclosed that it could not carry out any arrest as they have been no complainants since the violent incident.
“In every case of such, you just have to have a complainant. So, either of the sides – whether the students or CDC-COP. We heard that injuries were on both of sides. The side of the SUP and that of the CDC-COP. So, whatever the case is, we are urging them to avail themselves; especially the victims or any of the parties in question can avail themselves to us. So, that we are able to extract statements from them and be able to identify the perpetrators,” said the spokesman of the Liberia National Police in a statement over the weekend.
The police’s statement was highly condemned by the public with many describing the police as a “partisan police force”.
Weah’s Silence and Statement
Despite the litany of condemnations against the CDC-COP, President Weah remained mute on the matter for a week. When he finally broke his silence on Monday, he distanced himself from CDC-COP and stated that he has never known them.
Pres. Weah: “Anyone or group that has my image on a banner in support of me and my Government has to be peaceful, respectful, and tolerant.
“You cannot support a man of peace by being violent.
“I also want to stress, as the founding father of the Congress for Democratic Change, now the Coalition for Democratic Change, that we do not have any CDC-COP within our organization.
“When you come to join us, you become a CDC partisan of peace, democracy, and development.
“Therefore, I have mandated the Ministry of Justice and the entire national security apparatus to immediately arrest all those involved in the violent incident on July 26, 2022, and ensure that they face the full weight of the law.”
The President’s nationwide address was highly criticized and appeared dishonest to some.
The Chairman of the Senate’s Defense and Security Committee, Senator Steve Zargo of the Liberty Party, described the president’s response to the July 26 violence as “belated”, and came at a time after several condemnations and concerns were raised by civil society organizations.
“The incident surrounding the July 26, celebrations took place a week ago, leaving peaceful citizens brutalized and continued to suffer cruel pain, some of which are said to be in critical conditions,” he said.
Senator Zargo believes the president’s statement came as the result of “pressure” from international partners, because it had taken him seven days to release a statement.
Despite his criticism, he also forwarded to the President some recommendations, including a time frame be announced and respected for the investigation as announced by the President,; that note be taken of the Liberia Council of Churches Press Statement which calls for speedy investigation of 26; July violence and the involvement of the Human Rights Commission.
“That the source /buyer of the pickup that carries CDC/COP be brought in to answer questions to include but, not limited to the buyer and financiers. And that Student Unification Party and Rep. Yekeh Korluba kindly exercise restrain pending the outcome of the investigation.”
Arrests Finally Made
Though the Liberia National Police was slow-feet over effecting arrest, just a day after the President’s statement which was also followed by a statement from members of the international community including the United Nations, the U.S. Embassy, American, Swedish and British Embassies, the Liberia National Police announced the arrest of seven people in regard to the violence.
“Seven persons have been arrested by the Liberia National Police in connection to the street violence of July 26, 2022. Those arrested are Kendrick S. Pelenah, 30, Joshua S. Karr, 28, Pukar Roberts, 36, Ben B. Togba h, 25, Foday N. Massaquoi, 23, Aaron K. Chea, 26 and Abdurahman Barrie,” the police disclosed in a press statement.
According to the police, it has also launched a manhunt for the remaining individuals and will shortly solicit the assistance of the public by releasing names and photographs of the wanted persons.
Irrespective of these announced efforts, the police remain criticized for their sincerity in ensuring justice for Sivili due to its previous posture. Many believe the police were forced to act due to pressure from the international community.
Who Are Those Arrested
The formation of the CDC-COP happened right under Pres. Weah’s nose. This is why he has come under heavy criticism and public scrutiny for denying link to them.
It was formed a breakaway from the Council of Patriots originally formed by Henry Costa and others from the opposition block in 2019 to pressure the Weah-led government to fix the economy and properly manage the country.
The CDC-COP headed by its Chairman Ben Togbeh, Secretary General Foday Massaquio, and other officials like Pukar Roberts, Kendrick S. Pelenah, Joshua S. Karr, Hassan Trawally, and others were all part of the formation of the original Council of Patriots (COP) and moved by the command of Costa, the chairman.
The then strong critics of the Weah-led government, COP Youth Wing were accused on several occasions of staging multiple protests against the government before or after the famous and biggest protest in Liberia history that took place on June 7.
The group then under the COP was accused of setting ablaze car tires in front of the Nigeria House, at the Japan Freeway Drive, and other places in and around Monrovia. The group also held press conferences anywhere in the streets. Many times during their press engagements their then leader Costa will phone in from the United States and instruct them the next course of action.
These men and women later fell apart with Costa in mid-2020. According to close sources, the then COP Youth Wing felt marginalized as they were risking their lives to confront state security officers while their then leader Costa was in America living luxurious life at their expense.
Costa on September 2, 2020, suspended the group Chair Ben Togba and seven other members. Costa at the time alleged that leaders of his COP Youth Wing had taken a huge sum of money from Finance Minister Samuel Tweah.
Before Costa could send out their dismissal letters, the group distanced itself from the COP on September 17, 2020, in the height of the special Senatorial Election, and joined the ruling CDC.
The then COP Youth Wing in a colorful ceremony in the presence of the CDC’s Chairman Mulbah Morlu and Youth Chair Jefferson Koijee, joined rank with the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change. They then announced the formation of the CDC-COP and were welcomed by the CDC.