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April 08, 2013

Planned Friday Rally Invokes Liberia’s Violent Past

by James Butty

In Liberia, the month of April has been violent in recent history.  

On April 14, 1979 a rice riot left about 50 people dead.  A bloody April 12, 1980 military coup killed President William R. Tolbert, Jr., and a week after on April 20, 13 former ministers of the Tolbert government were executed by firing squad.  

This year, various Liberian activist groups have called for a mass gathering Friday (April 12) to draw attention to what they say is the declining living condition of Liberians.  

But, the government has vowed to protect the peace and stability of the nation.  The police have said the organizers must get a permit before holding the protest. The military has been placed on standby to back up the police in the event of trouble.

Amara Fofana, deputy national secretary for media and advocacy of the Coalition for the Transformation of Liberia said the planned demonstration is protected under the constitution.

“We intend to assemble on April 12 to actually inform the government everything is not well, even though the president [Ellen Johnson Sirleaf] is winning all the international awards, but we are saying that everything is not bread and butter as people may perceive it.  You get over 65 percent of Liberians that go to bed with hunger; you have over 70 percent of Liberians that live below the belt of $1.00 [a day],” he said.

The government has vowed to protect the peace and stability of the nation. The defense minister has put the military on standby to back up the police, just in case.
Butty interview with Fofana

Information Minister Lewis Brown echoed the warning of Police Director General Chris Massaquoi that the organizers must first get a permit before holding the protest.

“We have a duty, as a government, to continue to ensure the peace and security of the demonstrators and also of those who wish not to participate in that demonstration.  In that regard, our law provides that those who would wish to participate in any such process that would require occupying the public space should present themselves and make a request for a permit,” he said.
Butty interview with Lewis

Brown said the government has issued such permits in the past, and he sees no reason why the government would not wish to do the same for the organizers of the planned April 12 protest.

He said while the government respects the constitutionally guaranteed right of the protesters, it also has the responsibility, given the history of the month of April, to maintain peace and stability.

“As a government, you have to hope for the best, but also plan for the worst.  Then, also, there is the psychosis in our country about the month of April.  A lot of tragic experiences occurred in our country in the month of April.  And so, it is sadly a month of difficult reminders.  We just as a government want to be responsible and make sure that democracy is about orderliness,” Brown said.

Fofana said the organizers of the planned April 12 event do not need a permit because their event is not a demonstration, but rather a peaceful assembly.

He accused the government of double standard when he said the Christian community gathered recently to petition members of parliament without a permit.

“Are we not Liberians?  Or again, are you trying to introduce what they call sectionalism and the class system?  Of course, we are going to oppose it in the full concept of the rule of law of the Republic of Liberia,” he said.

Fofana said government and other mediators have been holding talks with the organizers and security officials to find the way forward.  But, he said the group will defend the interests of the Liberian people.

A previous version of this story mistakenly noted the rice riots occurring in 1989.