Diplomatic Missions Back Gov’t in Deferring Council of Patriots Protest to January 5

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Major diplomatic stakeholders in Liberia have given their backing to the Liberian government in deferring the mass peaceful assembly planned to kick off today by the Council of Patriots.

The stakeholders include the ambassadors of the United States, the European Union, ECOWAS, and the U.N. resident coordinator in Liberia.

In a press release issued on Sunday, December 29, the Ministry of Justice instructed the Council of Patriots to use the Antoinette Tubman Stadium to stage their protest on Sunday, January 5, 2020.

The release was an extension to a previous release issued on December 28, where the ministry said it could not accommodate various requests for protests and counter-protests on December 30. The ministry revealed that the requests would be reconsidered on January 30, 2020.

The government then reiterated its commitment to afford all citizens their rights, including the right to free movement, the freedom to petition their government for a redress of grievances, and the right to peacefully assemble.

“In democracies around the world, it is common practice for the organizers of large public gatherings of all kinds to seek permission from the government as to the venue and timeframe of said gathering,” it said.

“International governments then adjudicate the application for a mass gathering, on a non-political basis, on the grounds of scale, duration, purpose of the demonstration, as well as impact on the rights of other citizens to access schools, hospitals, workplaces, courts and other necessary elements of daily life.”

It further added: “When the government ultimately issues its permit for the public gathering at times the venues and dates will mirror what has been requested, and at other times, alternate logistical arrangements that differ from the original request will be offered. For example, when the duties of the state to balance the rights of all citizens take precedence over the preference of one group. For example, in general, mass demonstrations should not take place on weekdays on a capital city’s main roadway when to do so would cause greatest disruption to educational, governmental, and healthcare functions and commercial activities.”

The ministry also asked the counter-protesters to shift their planned action to Sunday, January 12 at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium.

In a joint statement following the Ministry of Justice’s statement, the diplomatic stakeholders encouraged the Council of Patriots and counter-protesters to shift their respective demonstrations to the days and venues offered by the government in order to ensure that the rights of all Liberia’s citizens are equally respected.

“We, your partners, strongly endorse this plan and look forward to those successful and peaceful gatherings, supported and protected by your government,” the stakeholders said in the joint statement.

“We note the government of Liberia’s statements on December 28 and 29 regarding the exercise and protection of key constitutional rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and petition for the redress of grievances.”

The international partners have also acknowledged clarifications provided by the leader of the Council of Patriots, Henry Costa, that their protest intends to be peaceful and in conformity with the laws of the country.

They have earlier accused Costa of making inflammatory comments during a live Facebook broadcast, which implied that some of his supporters would be armed, and threatened under various circumstances to use deadly force.

In accordance with the government’s request, Rufus Neufville, the chair of the counter-protesting group, the Independent Council of Patriots, said during a press conference on Sunday that there would be no counter-protest on Monday, as neither group had permission to protest.

Featured photo courtesy of Philip Marcelo

Gbatemah Senah

Senah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. Between 2017 and 2019, he won six excellent reporting awards from the Press Union of Liberia. They include a three-time Land Rights Reporter of the Year, one time Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Human Rights Reporter of the Year.

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