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Several arrested over Covid-19 measures

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Police and other officers within the joint state security force here have arrested several persons for allegedly violating a lockdown measure banning movement of people after 3pm in the fight against Coronavirus.

The arrests of the unspecified number of persons come as the joint state securities here face criticisms of beating, chasing people from market places and forcing those at home to leave their porches and stay indoors in the first few days of enforcing the stay – at – home measures.

By Sunday, 12 April Liberia had recorded 50 cases with five deaths resulting from the Coronavirus disease.

Our sources say those arrested are being held in police custody without lawyers available to represent them as most public and private institutions here remain partially or totally non – functional under a State of Emergency announced on 7 April by President George Manneh Weah, with a lockdown starting Saturday, 11 April.
In declaring the State of Emergency last week, President Weah named certain key institutions that must continue to operate with only their essential staff, including the Central Bank of Liberia, Finance Ministry, the National Port Authority, and the Liberia Revenue Authority, among others, but he did not mention if lawyers could work.

President Weah indicated that non-exempt government employees and people in the private sector are encouraged to work from home.

With lawyers’ presence not felt under these measures which have seen many arrests of violators, it remains a point to ponder how a party held beyond 48 hours by security forces could take advantage of habeas corpus which the Constitution requires to be utilized at all times even during state of emergency.

Legal experts say “habeas corpus is typically a remedy when someone is being unlawfully detained in a government detention center.”

Article 87 (b) of Liberia’s 1986 Constitution says in part that “The writ of habeas corpus shall remain available and exercisable at all times and shall not be suspended on account of any state of emergency.”

Incidents of state security forces chasing, beating both food sellers and buyers out of market places, and further forcing residents from their porches to stay indoors have been prompting questions here if Liberians are under curfew or a lockdown as government combats coronavirus.

In a follow up on Monday, 13 April, Police Spokesman Moses Carter confirmed the arrests of those he says were in violation of the measures, but he fails to disclose how many persons are in police custody for such violation.

Mr. Carter indicates in the phone interview with this paper that police will use the law to restrain the movement of those arrested, adding that police have 48 hours to determine whether to send them to court or to release them.

“We will use the law. We will restrain their movement for 48 hours. We have 48 hours to make a determination whether to send them to court or to release them,” he says.

In a related development, Mr. Carter says five impersonators purporting to be police officers have been arrested and placed in police custody.

Earlier on Monday, Deputy Police Inspector General for Operations Col. Marvin Sackor told a local radio station in Monrovia that the Covid19 measures require people to stay indoors, though he says he can understand if people are on their porches but not walking around or playing lulu with next door neighbors.

He says at this point there is no law about fine or jail if people violate the measures, adding that police have done awareness for the public to abide by lawful orders.

Col. Sackor says he is not ordering police to beat people, but warns that if anyone fails to abide by the measures, there’s consequences for their action as Coronavirus will collapse the Liberian health system if the disease is not controlled.

Quizzed regarding what security institutions are part of the joint security taskforce, Col. Sackor clarifies that boy scouts and Motorcycles Task Force are not part of the operation, urging the public to call the police if any of these institutions are caught carrying on the operation.Further, he says the joint security team can look at some of the functions of the Monrovia City Police to see how they can help the operation.

He names the Liberia National Police, the Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency and the Liberia National Fire Service which are under the Ministry of Justice as those part of the operation, noting that the president through declaration of the State of Emergency, activated the Armed Forces of Liberia to be in readiness.

In a related development, Sackor discloses that on Sunday, 12 April two criminals were arrested with a pistol, dressed in security uniforms and impersonating as officers.
He says the suspects were going around, putting people under gunpoint and taking their belongings.
By Winston W. Parley

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