Liberia

Liberia: Amnesty calls for release of rights activist

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ABIDJAN, 17 February (IRIN) - Amnesty International (AI) on Friday called on the Liberian government to release Aloysius Toe, a leading human rights activist, saying he was due to be tried on a trumped-up treason charge. "Toe has done nothing but work legitimately for the defense of fundamental human rights in Liberia. He should not be in prison and not on trial," AI said in a press statement.
Toe, a leading member of the National Human Rights Center, secretary-general of the Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders and executive director of the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights, was scheduled to go on trial on Friday in the capital, Monrovia, following his arrest on 4 November, when he emerged from a week of hiding.

"A week earlier, his home had been raided by police and his wife arrested and briefly detained; three other human rights activists were also arrested and held for several days before being released without charge," AI said. "The charge of treason against Toe is apparently based on a document by the armed opposition Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) purported to have been found at his home when it was raided by the police."

The document was a public statement by the LURD which was widely diffused, including on the Internet, and sent to many individuals both in Liberia and abroad. No other evidence of the offence of treason has been cited, AI said. Toe, it added, was arrested after the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders launched a campaign in October for the release of fellow rights activists Hassan Bility and Sheikh Sackor, and other detainees.

"Bility, a journalist with The Analyst newspaper, was held incommunicado and without charge or trial following his arrest on 24 June 2002. He was finally handed over to the US embassy on 7 December 2002 and flown out of the country," AI said. "Now he has recounted his terrible ordeal while in detention. He was severely tortured and held in appalling conditions. Sheikh Sackor, Executive Director of Humanist Watch, has been held incommunicado since 25 July 2002."

The Liberian government accused Bility and Sackor of belonging to the LURD and initially said they would be tried by a military court. "No charges were, however, brought against them, they had no access to defense lawyers and were not brought before any court, despite several writs of habeas corpus submitted on their behalf," AI said.

On 28 October, the Liberian government said Bility and Sackor would be released - but under certain conditions to which they had to agree. However, they both remained in detention until Bility was handed over to the US embassy.

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