Liberia: Justice Ministry Warns Against UnAuthorized Protest By Students on July 26

As tension mounts in the Liberian capital Monrovia over the planned peaceful protests spearheaded by some student activists at the state runned University of Liberia for Thursday, July 26th, the country’s Justice Ministry says it is encouraging “…all persons or groups of people desiring to stage a peaceful protest to strictly abide by the law relating to public marches and demonstrations.”

Liberia Justice Minister Counselor Frank Musa Dean

Justice Minister and Attorney General Counselor Frank Musa Dean in a press statement issued on Wednesday afternoon in the capital Monrovia warned the “…general public that, consistent with the Act Requiring the Obtaining Permits for Public Marches and demonstrations approved February 10, 1975, and section 22 of rhe Liberia National Police Act of 2015, any person or group of persons wishing to stage a march or demonstration must first obtain a permit from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) before staging such a march..”

File Photo of Protesting University Students in Paynesville

The Liberian government’s statement is in response to a ultimatum given by student groups to President George M. Weah to declare his assets or face mass peaceful protests against celebrations of the country’s 171st Independence Day Anniversary on Thursday. There have been calls by some Liberians in and out of the country for President Weah to calm tension in the country by issuing a statement. So far, State House in Monrovia has made no indication that the Liberian President will.

An official independence day program on Thursday will hear an address by the national orator, the country’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah. Student leaders have called for mass peaceful protest to register their concerns over the failure of President George M. Weah to declare his assets in keeping with law and the growing economic hardship Liberians are facing.

Public demonstrations in Liberia have a history of violence and heavy-handed response from state security.

A bloody “rice”: riot in April, 1979 led to the subsequent violent military takeover in the capital Monrovia. The opposition Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) mobilized citizens to peacefully protest an increase in the price of rice; the staple food of Liberia. Dozens of citizens were killed and wounded by government security in an attempt to put down the riot and looting which followed. The event led to disenchantment among some non-commissioned officers in the military. Led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe in the early morning hours of April 12, 1980, soldiers attacked the Presidential Mansion and killed President William R. Tolbert..

At the onset of the country’s civil war and in advance of rebels led by now jailed former rebel leader turned former President Charles Taylor, massive peaceful demonstrations by citizens called on President Doe to step down to from power; a call he refused to consider. The Doe government which was under siege with massive loss of support from citizens, targeted would-be opponents with arrests, disappearances and death squads.

The West African country devolved into years of political and economic stability for nearly over two decades including back to back civil wars between 1990 – 2003.

Liberian President George M. Weah

Liberians are expressing concern over deteriorating economic conditions; especially since the incumbency of President George Weah who was inaugurated in January, 2018. The Weah government has asked Liberians to be patient as it develops an economic plan to rescue the struggling country. Liberia has enjoyed relative peace since 2005 with the help of the international community and UN peacekeepers who departed the country in March, 2018.

Student groups have accused President Weah of refusing to comply with the law which requires public officials to declare their assets. They say officials of government have no incentive to also declare their assets since the President has failed to lead by example.

Coat of Arms of Liberia.

With just a few hours to the Independence day anniversary, the Liberian Justice Ministry said it “wishes to stress the need for all Liberians to abide by the laws in the exercise of their right to peaceful assembly so that there is no disruption of normal traffic, business activities and free movement of people…”

Liberia Justice Department Press Statement

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine