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S/Court freezes soldier’s release

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Liberia’s Supreme Court has ordered the Criminal Court “A” to stop handling Armed Forces of Liberia or AFL Officer Melvin K. Tolbert’s case, rather instructing that the soldiers be “remanded to the Military Barrack” pending the outcome of a scheduled conference with Associate Justice Jamesetta H. Wolokolie tomorrow, Tuesday, 28 June.

“In the meantime, you are hereby ordered to further desist in the handling of this matter and have Informant Melvin K.Tolbert remanded to the Military Barrack, pending outcome of the conference,” the Supreme Court said in an order to Judge J. Boima Konto.

Criminal Court “A” had earlier on Wednesday, 22 June taken temporary custody of Officer Tolbert of the AFL, pending its ruling into a habeas corpus issued against the army for allegedly detaining the complainant in military premises for over 20 days and downplaying his request to be discharged from the military.

The lower court was due to make its ruling on Friday, 24 June, but based on the Supreme Court’s order, it acted in accordance and remanded Officer Tolbert to the Military Barracks, pending the outcome of the conference at the Supreme Court.

In a request for habeas corpus, Officer Tolbert’s counsels said their client has been in military detention since 31 May 2016 upon his arrest by Military Police officers and held at the Edward Binyan Kesselley Military Barracks in Shiefflin, Margibi County.

Up to the time of filing the complaint on 17 June, his lawyers said he remained in military detention, while accusing defense authorities here of consistently downplaying his request to seek foreign medical attention after being injured in May 2009 by grenade blast during training.

Due to authorities’ alleged failure to address Officer Tolbert’s concerns after being injured in military training in 2009, his lawyers said he has since 2011 been requesting authorities to discharge him from the army following the expiry of his contract with the AFL.

Officer Tolbert’s lawyer Cllr. Arthur Johnson said, his client took the decision to leave after being ignored by authorities despite series of communications written surrounding his resignation from the army and his subsequent requests for discharge.

He contended that Officer Tolbert was entitled to habeas corpus because habeas corpus is for anyone whose rights have been infringed upon without due process. “Melvin Tolbert is detained in a dark room at the Kessely Barracks; he is not being  confined. Melvin Tolbert is not in the confines of the Barracks to say he is walking around. He was arrested by Military Police Officers and placed in the dark room,” Cllr Johnson argued.

In countering arguments made by counsels representing the AFL, Cllr Johnson told the court that the lawdeclares as unconstitutional any law, regulation, statute or rule that is inconsistent with the Constitutionof Liberia.

“Then he comes here to say the military has a rulethat even if you are jailed for 100 days, you can’t come to court,” Cllr. Johnson stressed, noting that it was unconstitutional. He said the army here does not have a court, though the lawintends that there mustbe a court structure at the military.

He warned that if the Court allowed the AFL to continue detaining officers in such manner, even the rest of the officers that were in the courtroom to take Tolbert in their custody would also see themselves locked up for hundred days and nothing happening to protect them.

He suggested that since the AFL does not have “adequatelegal structure”, they are obligated to turn over to the Ministry of Justice any arrest made within 48 hours. The Defense Ministry’s lawyer Cllr. Alexander Saryeah contended that Officer Tolbert remained active army personnel because he had not been discharged as per the agreement in the contract he signed with the army.

“As long as you are not discharged from the army, you are a member of the army,” he insisted, raising further contention that an army officer must not be subjected to a civilian authority but to the Military court.

By Winston W. Parley-Editing by Jonathan Browne

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