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Liberia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On July 29, truck driver Alieu Sheriff was involved in a scuffle with on-duty police officers after his truck was impounded along the Gardnersville Japan Highway in Montserrado County where the Ministry of Transport and Liberia National Police were conducting a joint inspection of non-roadworthy vehicles. According to witnesses, police officers beat and dragged Sheriff from the National Transportation Authority. Sheriff was later found unconscious and taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. On August 31, the Liberia National Police arrested and forwarded to court three police officers, Samuel, N. Borbor, Harris Monger, and Alexander Seakour, after Sherriff’s autopsy showed he died of blunt force trauma. Borbor and Seakour were charged with negligent homicide and criminal facilitation. In September the Liberia National Police delivered the three officers to the Monrovia City Court for prosecution in connection with the killing. The three police officers were detained at the Monrovia Central Prison pending a criminal trial.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not always observe these prohibitions and rights. At the opening of the August Term of Court on August 9, Resident Judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit Court of Gbarpolu County Zuballah Kizeku, cautioned law enforcement officers to adhere to the due process of law when arresting individuals or groups alleged to have committed crimes. Judge Kizeku explained that “law enforcers discriminate against their arrest and the criminal justice process by going after cases that are about money.” The judge noted that the increasing wave of wrongful arrests by law enforcers was responsible for overcrowded conditions in prisons around the country.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

In general police must have warrants issued by a magistrate to make arrests. The law allows for arrests without a warrant if the necessary paperwork is filed immediately afterwards for review by the appropriate authority. Nonetheless, arrests often were made without judicial authorization, and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence.

The law provides that authorities either charge or release detainees within 48 hours. Detainees generally were informed of the charges against them upon arrest but not always brought before a judge for arraignment within 48 hours.

At the opening of the February Term of Court in Sanniquellie on February 8, Judge Kontoe, who presided over the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court, emphasized the need for magistrates not to take bond fees. Public defender Tairlo Wehyee responded that the overcrowding of court dockets, as well as the prisons, was due to bond fees imposed by magistrates. He noted accused individuals who could not afford to pay these fees were jailed and sometimes remained in lengthy pretrial detention. Additionally, some magistrates solicited money from plaintiffs or complainants to transport the accused or convicted to prison. The Office of Public Defense continued to face logistical constraints that hindered visits to hard-to-reach magisterial courts in the country. Magistrates in remote areas often adjudicated all cases, including land, marriage, and rape cases, which deprived the accused of an adequate defense.

According to the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, a detainee’s access to a hearing before a judge sometimes depended on whether there was a functioning court or available transportation in the area. Those arraigned were often held in lengthy pretrial detention.

The law also provides that, once detained, a criminal defendant must be indicted during the next succeeding term of court after arrest or, if the indicted defendant is not tried within the next succeeding court term and no cause is given, the case against the defendant is to be dismissed; nevertheless, cases were rarely dismissed on either ground. Approximately 30 percent of pretrial detainees nationwide had been incarcerated for more than two terms of court without a hearing.

Criminal Courts A, B, C, and D had one assigned public defender each, while two were assigned to the Criminal Court E in the First Judicial Circuit at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia. Due to lack of sufficient government support, only five public defenders were assigned to the 10 magisterial courts in Montserrado County. There was a public defender’s office at the Monrovia Central Prison as well as the Coordinator of the Judiciary Public Defense Program overseeing the Supreme Court and Juvenile Court, bringing the total number of public defenders in Montserrado County to 13.

Two public defenders were assigned for each of the other 14 counties. Under the National Public Defender Program, each police station is required to maintain an Office of Court Liaison that works with the Public Defender’s Office in each county. According to the national coordinator of the program, the 40 public defenders, down by one from 41 in 2020 due to the death of a public defender who was not replaced, were insufficient to provide adequate access to justice for indigent persons across the country. Magistrates or police officers are responsible for contacting the public defender in cases where individuals are arrested on a warrant. In the instances when a warrantless arrest is made, the Court Liaison Officer in each police station is responsible for contacting the public defender. The coordinator for public defense noted that in some cases, the families of the defendants also contacted the assigned public defenders. Public defenders may also take on civil cases, after a review by the coordinator for public defense, provided that the defendant is indigent and no financial rewards or compensation are paid to the public defender.

According to the Independent National Commission on Human Rights and newspaper accounts, some jurisdictions occasionally lacked both a prosecutor and a public defender, and the magistrate judge proceeded without them. Although not contrary to law, depending on the type and scope of the case, it was not considered a best practice. The law provides for bail for all noncapital or non-drug-related criminal offenses; it severely limits bail for individuals charged with capital offenses or serious sexual crimes. Bail may be paid in cash, property, or insurance, or be granted on personal recognizance. The bail system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption. The Independent National Commission on Human Rights and other civil rights observers reported that judges misused the bail system, viewing it as punitive rather than a way to regulate appearance in court. Some judges used the possibility of bail to solicit bribes.

According to human rights attorney Findley Karnga, the law is clear in its provisions on the use of the bail system. Karnga noted, however, that some judges used their discretionary powers to make it difficult for accused persons to get bail set. Karnga said that he experienced this on behalf of clients on numerous occasions, which led to them being held behind bars for extended periods of time as a form of pretrial punishment.

Detainees have the right to prompt access to counsel, visits from family members, and, if indigent, an attorney provided by the state in criminal cases. Public defender’s offices remained understaffed, and some allegedly charged indigent clients for their services. The Liberia National Bar Association reported logistical support frequently was not provided to public defenders.

Although official policy allows detained suspects to communicate with others, including a lawyer or family member, inadequate provision of telephone services resulted in many inmates being unable to communicate with anyone outside of the detention facility. With funding from the European Union’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights program, the Rural Human Rights Activists Programme and Serving Humanity for Empowerment and Development continued to provide cell phone services to prisoners in Bong, Margibi, and Nimba Counties.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports in the press that security forces and police made some arbitrary arrests.

Some political parties accused the Liberia National Police of arresting opposition politicians on trumped-up charges. For example, Mo Ali, the secretary general of the opposition Unity Party, was arrested on March 25 on charges of “terroristic threat against the state” for allegedly making inflammatory remarks on video and Facebook that incited petrol bomb attacks against the National Election Commission and Supreme Court Justice Joseph N. Nagbe. Minister of Justice Frank Musah Dean ordered police to release Ali until authorities presented evidence supporting the charges. Ali was released on March 26.

On October 1, the political opposition party Alternative National Congress accused police of political intimidation following the arrest of party member Jethro Saylah Kangar Harris in Ganta, Nimba County, while the party was providing support to an opposition candidate in a congressional by-election. The party called on police to protect persons’ lives and property rather than harass and violate their rights and civil liberties. Harris was accused of intentionally spreading false and inflammatory information by posting photographs of a corpse that he alleged was the victim of ritualistic violence. He knowingly published pictures of the autopsy of someone he knew and claimed it was proof of active organ harvesting from living persons for use in witchcraft. He later admitted to his actions and false accusation, and on October 4, the Monrovia City Court remanded Harris to the Monrovia Central Prison.

On July 22, Criminal Court E Judge Blamo Dixon ordered Justice Minister Dean, Liberia National Police Inspector General Colonel Patrick Toe Sudue, and Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Tamba Koijee to release detainees and desist from detaining peaceful citizens. The judge’s order came because of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Attorney Alphonsus Woiwor on the same day asking the judge to order Koijee to produce Rose Wreh, Felecia Wreh, and Christiane Toe. The four-count document declared the women were arrested on July 19 and transported to Zone One, Bushrod Island, and thereafter taken to Liberia National Police Headquarters on July 20. From there they were later taken to the Monrovia City Hall without charge. Neither the Liberia National Police nor the mayor of Monrovia informed the detainees why they were arrested. According to press reports, upon the failure of the government’s attorney to appear in court to justify the arrests, the court ordered the release of the women through a default judgment.

Pretrial Detention: Although the law provides for a defendant to receive an expeditious trial, lengthy pretrial and prearraignment detention remained serious problems. As of October pretrial detainees accounted for approximately 63 percent of the prison population across the country and 83 percent in the Monrovia Central Prison. In some cases the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for the alleged crime.

The use of detention as a punitive measure, failure to issue indictments in a timely manner, lack of a functioning bail system, poor court recordkeeping, missing files, failure of judges to assign court dates, failure of defense counsel to file motions to dismiss, and a lack of resources for public defenders all contributed to prolonged pretrial detention. The suspension of jury trials due to COVID-19 restrictions meant that some defendants opted to continue detention rather than submit to a bench trial. Conversely, the release of detainees on bail pending trial remained controversial, especially given the backlog in trials.

According to the Rural Human Rights Activist Programme, from January to July, 266 pretrial detainees had their cases dismissed and were released under the Magistrate Sitting Program in Bong, Margibi, and Nimba Counties. The Office of Public Defense noted, however, that logistical difficulties continued to constrain the program, making exact figures on the release of prisoners difficult to determine.

The corrections system continued to develop its capacity to implement probation. During the year there were no new probation officers hired, however, thus limiting probation services to eight of the country’s 15 counties.

With UNICEF’s support, and in coordination with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, the Child Justice Section of the Ministry of Justice worked to remove children from the criminal justice system. As of December 31, 121 children were removed from detention. In addition another 588 cases, consisting of 473 boys and 115 girls, were mediated under the Juvenile Diversion Program, in which police used its discretion to arrest when parents committed to taking responsibility for any damage resulting from misdemeanor acts by minors, in order to avoid their detention altogether.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

A variety of civil society groups conducted demonstrations throughout the year, including outside the legislature and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Liberia National Bar Association and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights stated that the constitution and law only require prior notification, not application for a permit, to allow the government time to provide sufficient security to protect free assembly, and that a permitting process could restrict freedom of assembly. Many observers said the relevant laws and regulations required clarification.

On August 2, according to published reports, Liberia National Police injured several students protesting at the University of Liberia. According to an eyewitness, officers in the Liberia National Police reportedly fired tear gas, and in an uncorroborated report, rubber bullets – which the Liberia National Police Inspector General Patrick T. Sudue stated police did not have – at students protesting for the resumption of regular in-person classes instead of an online learning program established in response to COVID-19 at the state-run university. The Liberia National Police and university leadership claimed that tear gas had only been employed when students attempted to damage police and university property and break through police barriers. At a subsequent student protest on September 20 demanding that instructors return to classes, police fired tear gas on the students to disperse them and reportedly arrested some of them.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

On June 18, the government announced new COVID-19 measures to prevent a surge in infections. Passengers traveling from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh were denied entry into the country. The government also limited gatherings, including weddings and funerals, to no more than 20 persons and warned that “the government may be compelled to impose a lockdown and or curfew if the guidelines were not fully complied with.”

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

The law forbids the forced return of refugees, their families, or other persons who may be subjected to persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, and the government generally respected those rights for refugees. The government provided a prima facie mode of recognition for Ivorian refugees, meaning Ivoirian refugees who arrived in Liberia because of the 2011 postelection violence in Cote d’Ivoire did not have to appear before an asylum committee to gain refugee status; the status was granted automatically. UNHCR noted there was a significant number of new arrivals, mostly Ivorian refugees, in January and February and reported that, as of October 31, Liberia was host to 34,389 refugees from Cote d’Ivoire and 193 asylum seekers from other countries.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government resettled, offered naturalization, and assisted in the voluntary return of refugees. Voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees from Cote d’Ivoire’s 2011 postelection violence continued. According to UNHCR, as of October, 4,905 Ivorian refugees had returned to their country. UNHCR and the Liberia Refugee Repatriation Resettlement Commission reported providing continuing support to refugees who opted for local integration.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Asylum seekers who presented themselves to UNHCR and the Liberia Refugee Repatriation Resettlement Commission were provided temporary protection while their cases were being adjudicated. The government, along with UNHCR and other implementing partners, continued to provide protection to Ivorian refugees. According to UNHCR, as of October, 34,389 refugees from Cote d’Ivoire and 193 refugees from other countries remained in Liberia.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct. “Voluntary sodomy” is a misdemeanor with a penalty for conviction of up to one year’s imprisonment. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists reported LGBTQI+ persons faced difficulty obtaining redress for crimes committed against them, including at police stations, because those accused of criminal acts used the victim’s LGBTQI+ status in defense of their crime.

LGBTQI+ persons continued to record instances of assaults, harassment, and hate speech by community members, but indicated that police were somewhat more responsive to their concerns.

On May 8, members of a community watch team allegedly beat three men on suspicion they were gay in the Gobachop community of Paynesville. According to two of the victims, the community watch members threatened the three men and assaulted them, rendering one of the men unconscious. The Lesbian and Gay Association of Liberia (LEGAL) helped the victims report their case at the Zone 5 Police Depot in Duport Road as, according to the victims, they were afraid to report it in Gobachop due to further threats from the community watch team. On May 11, police arrested David Korboi Jr. and another suspect for the assault on the three men. According to LEGAL, the attackers were taken to the Paynesville magisterial court, where they were remanded to the Monrovia Central Prison, but LEGAL also noted it had received information that the attackers were subsequently released upon the orders of an unnamed influential person; independent corroboration was unavailable. LEGAL and the NGO Stop Aids in Liberia provided temporary employment to the victims as part of financial and psychological support.

Observers reported that three individuals in Karloken City, Maryland County, were attacked during the year because they were, or were suspected of being, transgender (or acting “feminine” or “like women”) and that the attackers were in police custody awaiting trial, but these reports were not independently confirmed.

LGBTQI+ victims were sometimes afraid to report crimes to police due to social stigma surrounding sexual orientation and rape as well as fear police would detain or abuse them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The HIV and AIDS team of the police and the Solidarity Sisters, a group of female police officers, undertook outreach to key communities, resolved disputes before they escalated, and helped other police officers respond to sensitive cases.

Authorities of the police’s Community Services Section noted improvements in obtaining redress for crimes committed against LGBTQI+ persons due to several training sessions on sexual and reproductive rights. Police sometimes ignored complaints by LGBTQI+ persons, but such activists noted improvements in treatment and protection from police after officers underwent advocacy, gender, safety, sexual and reproductive health, and security training.

LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination in accessing housing, health care, employment, and education. There were several reports from activists that property owners refused housing to members of the LGBTQI+ community by either denying applications or evicting residents from their properties.

There were press and civil society reports of harassment of persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, with some newspapers targeting the LGBTQI+ community. Hate speech was a persistent issue. Influential figures, such as government officials and traditional and religious leaders, made public homophobic and transphobic statements. In June a 19-year-old high school student was expelled by Nyekan C. Wleh, principal of the Trinity United Methodist School in New Kru Town, after appearing dressed in drag in social media posts.

The Ministry of Health had a coordinator to assist minority groups, including LGBTQI+ persons, in obtaining access to health care and police assistance. Members of the LGBTQI+ community often called upon trained protection officers to intervene in cases of harassment and violence.

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