By: Frank P. Martin and H. Richard Fallah
MONROVIA: Prominent Liberians, along with civil society and pro-democracy groups, at home and abroad have vehemently condemned and denounced the recent attack against Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson and his Christ Chapel of Faith Ministry in Paynesville on Sunday.
Condemnations of the incident also came from a chain of youth and women groups as well as faith based and pro-democracy and human rights organizations across the country.
In its statement, the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), has urged the Liberian government, to with immediate effect, institute a probe into the disruption of the regular Sunday morning worship at the Christ Chapel of Faith Ministry of Nimba County Senator, Prince Y. Johnson.
ALJA called on President Weah and the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) government to “muster the courage to arrest and prosecute those individuals who bear responsibility for this reckless and misguided action”.
The Association says “failure on the part of the Justice Ministry and the Liberia National Police to deal decisively with such blatant disregard for the rule of law and the infringement of the constitutionally protected right to freely worship by all Liberians could negatively impact the prevailing peace and security in the country.”
The Association said this brazen act of hooliganism carried out by the individuals who are reportedly members of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) and supporters of Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, is deeply troubling; and such behavior has no place in Liberia’s current political dispensation.
The strong-arm behavior and intimidation by the so-called NPP supporters forced Senator Johnson to prematurely end the service and sent the worshippers home. The reports quoted Peter Blidii, Jr, one of the leaders of the group as saying that their actions were precipitated by Senator Johnson’s decision to respond in kind to a prior criticism by Vice President Taylor against him.
The US based Liberian Journalist Association said the actions by the reported NPP supporters was ill-advised and is reminiscent of the country’s dark past where the constitutionally- guaranteed rights of Liberians were flagrantly trampled upon by agents of the ruling regime.
The Association said a similar incident occurred in July of 2022 when members of the Student Unification Party (SUP) of the University of Liberia, who had gathered on the grounds of the US Embassy to engage in a peaceful protect against the government, were violently attacked by members of the CDC-Council Patriots.
During that incident, student Christopher Sivili of SUP was brutalized and tortured, in the visible presence of state security officers.
ALJA said government officials including Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, in whose name the perpetrators claimed they were acting, should go beyond the issuance of a mere statement of condemnation and ensure that the individuals responsible are held accountable.
Similarly, the Nimba County’s Council of Elders said, it is deeply disturbed and profoundly troubled that certain individuals of the “ruling establishment” resolved to sow seeds of political confusion in the country by invading the church premises of Senator Prince Yormie Johnson, and rained threats, insults and intimidations at him while he was preaching the gospel, thereby forced the congregation to abandon its peaceful worship and flee from the premises of the church.
The Nimba’s elders reflected on the nation’s recent history of political intimidation, confusion, and lawlessness which culminated into secret killings of Nimba citizens including the mass murder of Nimbaians in the Lutheran Church, all resulting into the 14-year civil war, marked by genocide and untold human suffering.
Dr. Wilfred Sei Boayue, Chairman of the Nimba Council of Elders called on President George Manneh Weah and government to demonstrate political maturity and leadership that would guarantee the rule of law, religious tolerance, support for peace, free and fair elections and inclusive political participation, by condemning the violence and lawlessness inflicted.
“Now therefore, we the Elders of Nimba do hereby resolved and called on the Ministry of Justice to arrest, investigate and prosecute all those involved in the politically motivated invasion of the church premises of Senator Prince Y. Johnson by violence, lawlessness, threats, and intimidation during worship service.
The Nimba Elder Council indicated that such actions constitute a violation of Articles 14 and Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution, bearing on freedom of religion and freedom of expression.”
In the same vein, the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), a mother organization of Churches in Liberia, has added its voice to many Liberians who condemned the act of hooliganism displayed at the Christ Chapel of Faith pastored by Evangelist Prince Y. Johnson and Senator of Nimba County.
In the same vein, former ruling Unity Party standard bearer, Ambassador Joseph Nyuma Boakai, blasted Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor for her alleged connection to the recent disruption of normal service activities of Senator Prince Y. Johnson`s Church.
Speaking over the weekend through his official Facebook page, Ambassador Boakai wrote: “I condemned in the highest term such action that was carried against PYJ.”
The UP standard bearer emphasized that such lawless and violent conduct should be repudiated by all Liberians on every side of the political spectrum.
Ambassador Boakai: “Fellow Liberians, a few hours ago, we sadly witnessed a group of young people believed to be acting under the banner of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) violently besieged the Christ Chapel of Faith Ministry of Evangelist Prince Y. Johnson, and unfortunately disrupted normal Church Service.”
Baokai noted that such a brazen act of thuggery is without a shred of doubt reprehensible, inconceivable, unacceptable, and sheer provocation.
“And it is shameful that such lawlessness is done in the name of Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor said to be a Lawyer, who by oath bears greater responsibility to uphold the rule of law and respect the constitutional rights of others,” Boakai added.
According to him, as leaders in Liberia, they should, at no point in time, incite and lure their followers, especially our the youths, into violence and anti-peace maneuverings against others who hold opposing political views.
He said in the midst of political differences and no matter how high tension may flare in these 2023 election debates, they, as national leaders, or politicians, are duty-bound to uphold the peace of the country and constantly admonish the followers to remain law-abiding, moderate, and tolerant of opposing sides.
JNB: “As Liberians, we bear testament to the severe consequences of the civil conflict which eviscerated our country for fifteen years. Hence, I can’t emphasize enough the significance of peace and the compelling duty we all share in protecting this peace.”
The presidential hopeful further noted that it is the height of intolerance and indecency to have unleashed thugs on evangelist Prince Y. Johnson and members of his congregation merely on account of political differences.
He said such action runs contrary to the values of the country’s cherished democracy and undermines the hard-earned peace those in the opposition have endeavored to uphold, against all odds, over these difficult and revealing five to six years of the Weah-Taylor government.
The former VP Boakai, at the same time, lauded Senator Prince Y. Johnson for demonstrating maturity and leadership by immediately cutting off his church service and disbursing his members to avoid the temptation of bloodshed.
“I would like to commend him for his leadership, both as an evangelist and a political leader, and for this, I give him my salute,” Boakai maintained.
However, responding to the attack against PYJ and also the accusation of her involvement in the incident, Vice President Taylor denounced all forms of violence especially going into the 2023 general elections.
VP Taylor said, she stands by what she signed on to uphold the peace and unity of the country. She categorically denied any involvement in the attack as was alleged by Senator Johnson and others.
VP Taylor: “We all signed the code of conduct. I stand by the President. I stand by the international community. I stand by our country that peace is what we want.”
The former wife to war crimes convict, Charles Taylor, further condemned in the strongest terms any issue of violence in the 2023 general election, noting that the upcoming October 10, legislative and presidential elections are about ideas.
She said the focus of the election should be on how to build a better Liberia, what can they, as leaders, can do to lift the lives of the people.
According to the former Bong county Senator, violence cannot be part of the society in the 2023 elections.
At the same time, several other prominent persons, including politicians as well as institutions such as the Liberia Council of Churches, the Liberia National Bar Association, among others have issued statements, categorically condemning the incident and calling on the government to institute an impartial investigation into the incident with the view of bringing to book all those involved in an obvious breach of public peace.
The former warlord turned politician and preacher is the head pastor of the Church. Relations between him and the ruling CDC have turned sour since he withdrew his support for the government.
The group besieged the church premises following reports that Sen. Johnson had planned to respond through a sermon to Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor’s claim that he (Johnson) has a plan to take over the Liberian Presidency through his political surrogate- son, Sen. Jeremiah Koung, now running mate to Joseph N. Boakai.
The men who according to multiple eyewitnesses dressed in both NPP and CDC party paraphernalia chanted anti-PYJ slogans and held banners and placards with inscriptions: “We Want War Crimes Court, “Warlord must face trial, “National Patriotic Youth Wing Support War and Economic crimes court, Senator Johnson must stop using pupil to denigrate pupil officials among others.
But Sen. Johnson who has repeatedly accused the ruling party of bad governance and maltreatment of Liberians and should be booted out of state power by Liberians via the October polls.
He accused Vice President Howard-Taylor, Liberia Maritime Commissioner Lenn Eugene Nagbe and Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee of being the key masterminds of government purported plan to assassinate him, a claim, the current Weah regime, has consistently refuted.
However, the former war-lord turn preacher has promised to next Sunday, May 28, 2023, deliver his sermon and warned anyone that will come into his church’s backyard with any evil intent to rethink their action as he may be constrained to defend himself.
“If you come in my backyard and attack me, we will defend ourselves, the former war general maintained.
The Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) on May 22, 2023 added its own voice to the growing number of condemnations on “the planned lawlessness on Sunday, May 21, at the Christ Chapel of Faith Church, a place of worship, involving persons claiming to be supporters of the National Patriotic Party (NPP), a member-party of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC)”, adding that “this provocation, said to be masterminded by the ruling CDC, is an intentional violation of the Farmington Declaration, and further undermines trust in the leadership of the Weah administration to conduct non-violent and credible elections in October”.
Earlier, Senator Johnson pointed accusing finger at President Weah of being the instigator and mastermind behind the Sunday, May 21, 2023 attack on his Christ Chapel of Faith Church located on Lover Street in Paynesville City, outside Monrovia.
Senator Johnson: “Let me say this to President Weah when I supported you, I was a holy ghost. Now, that I have withdrawn my support from you, I’m a War criminal and you want to kill me that is your plan. But, you cannot kill me, and I cannot run away. The fact I’m 70 years old tells you I’m well protected. So, if you continue to push an attack against me, there will be no other options left but for me to defend myself and I have forces to do that.”
However, in a press statement released from the party and signed by Mr. Martin Saye Kollah, Deputy Secretary General of the party, CPP also frowned on the promise of Senator Prince Johnson, whose service was disrupted, to mobilize five hundred (500) plus civilians and ex-combatants, as well as threats of “killing somebody” coming from someone claiming to be Senator Johnson’s bodyguard.
“These comments are triggering and traumatizing reminders of brutal wars and insecurity for the victims and families of over 250 thousand Liberians who were killed by warring factions”, CPP said.
“Our political leaders ought to know better than to lend themselves to lawlessness, intimidation, violence and threats of violence against their political opponents. This is unacceptable. Our people do not need to be frightened into supporting any political candidate or party, nor should our nation’s peace and security be threatened. The government, with a sworn duty to protect all citizens, cannot continue to orchestrate and conspire to undermine the rights of all citizens to live in peace and express their views.
“The continued abuse and exploitation of Liberian youth is unacceptable. Rather than providing the needed skillset, jobs, and empowerment for our young people, failed government officials and other individuals are using them to instigate violence and lawlessness in the society to cover up their failed stewardship of the country.
“We urge our young people to resist the temptation to be used by those who promised to make their lives better but have failed miserably to do so”, the party said.
The CPP further said that it will not sit back and allow the country to return to its lawless and murderous past of factional wars, including between the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), stressing that there must be consequences for these violent behaviors, incitements, orchestrations, and threats to Liberia’s peace, stability, and security.
“The continuous absence of consequences for perpetrators of these lawless behaviors only confirm why the Weah government must not be given a second term”, the party said.
“The CPP calls on ECOWAS and the global human rights community to put all perpetrators of violence on notice; with specific warnings that any use of violence in the upcoming election will be punished in strict accordance with international law. We also call for a regional security support intervention with a mandate to protect civilians and ensure the safety of election workers who could be vulnerable to threats of violence and coercion.
“Lastly, we call on all Liberians to remain peaceful and resist the urge for violence during these elections”, the statement concluded.
For its part, the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) says “this is outrageous and a pure act of provocation to undermine the peace of the country,” adding that it is “utterly dismayed over such cruel act of violence, which has repeatedly marred the political landscape and gravely threatens the civil liberty, freedom of expression, and association guaranteed under the 1986 constitution.
The statement said “these attacks are intended to harass and intimidate prominent citizens and members of the public in the months leading to the upcoming elections and could have a chilling effect throughout the country”
“The LNBA seriously cautions the Liberian government to take all necessary steps to prevent acts of motivated violence and refrain from all inflammatory actions that could incite similar attacks or deter people from enjoying their civil liberties ahead of the crucial 2023 elections. The Bar assures all of its commitments to fully cooperate with relevant actors to keep the peace by ensuring that the Liberian democracy is kept afloat. The Bar says the Liberian government is under obligation by law to protect lives and properties and must ensure that the needful is done consistent with article 20(a) which provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provision laid down in the 1986 constitution in accordance with due process.
The ruling CDC has meanwhile condemned the situation while denying its involvement in it.
Since he severed his relationship with the ruling establishment and pitched his tent with the former ruling Unity Party, Senator Johnson has said he has had restless time as the government was bent on exterminating him at all cost but will not be deterred by whatever excesses meted against him.