The utterance by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor that there were no political prisoners when he was employed with the Ministry of Justice, decades prior to becoming the head of the Judicial Branch of the Government, did not go down well with Counselor Tiawan Gongloe, who himself was a victim.
Addressing the opening of the March 2021 Term of the Supreme Court, Justice Korkpor, for the first time, recalled allegations that while working with the MoJ in the late 1970s as Research Coordinator at the Bureau of Correction, during the administration of President William R. Tolbert, it was reported that he tortured political prisoners. Justice Korkpor further recalled that during the Tolbert era, the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews, Oscar Quiah and current RiverGee County Senator, Conmany B. Wesseh were those arrested after the April 14, 1979 rice riot in Monrovia. He claimed that they were subsequently granted an executive pardon.
“They were not political prisoners,” the Chief Justice claimed.
The Chief Justice said the accusation that he tortured political prisoners was intended to injure his character and reputation with the international community. “It is also just not true,” he said in his own defense. In a swift reaction, Cllr. Gongloe publicly told his audience, including justices of the Supreme Court, judges and lawyers, that there were political prisoners after the April 14, 1979 incident.
Gongloe, who is the President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA), said when citizens are arrested for exercising their civil and political rights and arbitrarily detained, there can be no other expression that fits them other than political prisoners. In the case of Matthews, Quiah and others, Gongloe wondered: “Were those arrested after the April 14 street protest against the increment in the price of rice not political prisoners?”
Gongloe explained that the protest was against a government policy to increase the price of rice.
“Those opposed to that policy exercised their constitutional rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government not to implement that policy,” Gongloe said. Further, Gongloe reminded his audience that during the Tolbert era, almost all dissenting voices in the country, including leaders of the pressure groups such as the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), the student organizations, like the University of Liberia Students Union (ULSU) and the Liberia National Students Union (LINSU), were silenced by arrests and threats of arrest.
“They were incarcerated at the Monrovia Central Prison without a writ. It was only after a few days that they were issued a writ of arrest and charged with treason,” Gongloe recalled, differing with Chief Justice Korkpor. In a counterargument to Gongloe’s statement, Justice Korkpor maintained his stance that he is not aware of any political prisoners during the tenure of President Tolbert.
Rather, Korkpor said he can remember that only a group of people from Maryland County including, Anderson, Yancy, Nyenpan and Taryonon who were arrested, imprisoned and convicted for ritualistic killings. “And, they were subsequently hanged. But, they were not political prisoners,” Korkpor challenged Gongloe’s statement. By Abednego Davis/liberianobserver.com
Main Photo: Progressive leader and Bar President Cllr. Gongloe