On Arrest of JPC Boss: Catholic Church Questions Government's Claim

The Catholic Church in Liberia has questioned the truth of the "mistaken identity" claims being propounded by Government to justify the unwarranted arrest of the Director of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Cllr. Frances Johnson-Morris.

The Catholic Church wondered who could be the person for whom Cllr. Johnson-Morris was mistaken to be.

In a statement issued yesterday, the Church said it finds it difficult to comprehend the arbitrary arrest of the national director of the JPC on grounds of "mistaken identity."

According to the press statement yesterday, the Church said if the highest police officer in the country can mistake the identity of such a prominent individual in society, "the Church wonders how many ordinary Liberians suffer such plight or even greater plights at the hands of subordinate officers."

The Church furthered that while it takes due note of Cllr. Morris' release from detention and the subsequent apology, it entertains the hope that the Government will deliver on its promise to speedily probe circumstances leading to the arrest and detention of Cllr. Morris in the context of instituting corrective measures to avoid the recurrence of such unwarranted actions.

Cllr. Morris was arrested and briefly detained last Friday by Police Director Paul Mulbah.

Following her release, the Justice Ministry, in a release, apologized to the Catholic Church, JPC and Cllr. Morris for what the ministry described as "unwarranted arrest" and promised to probe circumstances leading to her arrest.

Another group of Liberians, the American-Liberian Cultural Exchange Organization (ALCEO), has expressed shock of the arrest of the JPC boss, the first female Chief Justice of Liberia, despite the apology offered by the Ministry of Justice.

ALCEO says the arrest, which was effected by Police Director Paul Mulbah, coincided with the start of a three-day event intended to seek God's guidance on the country.

ALCEO sees the government's claim of mistaken identity as unfortunate, when the head of a government security operation, the Police Director himself effected the arrest.

An ALCEO release wondered how the police boss could have arrested someone he did know and moreover, someone who inaugurated this Government in August 1997, and then claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.

The American-Liberian Culture Exchange Organization said while it applauds the Government for the apology to Cllr. Morris, the JPC, the Catholic Church of Monrovia, and the people of Liberia, Government should equally prioritize the requisite education of its security officers in the knowledge of how and when to arrest and the procedure thereof, so as to refrain from causing embarrassment to the Government.

Meanwhile ALCEO is urging the Government through the Justice Ministry to fulfill its promise to investigate circumstances that led to the unwarranted arrest of Cllr. Morris last Friday morning. ALCEO says the move would create public confidence in its professed statement that Liberia is a "Country of Laws and not of Men."

ALCEO is a group of Liberians who have benefitted from U.S. Government-sponsored Cultural Exchange Programs in the United States.

In a related development, the Deputy Managing Director of the National Housing Authority (NHA), Koffa Nagbe, has challenged Police Director Paul Mulbah to say who he really wanted to arrest if his claims of arresting Cllr. Frances Johnson-Morris due to mistaken identity should be taken seriously.

Mr. Nagbe, a member of the opposition Liberian People's Party (LPP), however challenged the claims when he spoke last Saturday in New Kru Town, when his party launched a membership campaign in the area.

He said if Director Mulbah could arrest and detain a former Chief Justice of the Republic only to apologize later, and describe it as an incident of mistaken identity, he should immediately be dismissed by President Charles Taylor because, as he puts it, "for acting against the interest of peace."

Amidst applause, Mr. Nagbe told the crowd that "worst of all, it was this same Cllr. Morris who, during her tenure as Chief Justice, conducted the oath of office to President Charles Taylor in 1997 at which time the President promised to protect and uphold the Constitution of Liberia."

He reiterated that if such person could be mistakenly molested by her arrest and detention by Director Mulbah, than it would be wise that the police boss identify the person he wanted to arrest or be dismissed.

Since her arrest and release, several civil groups, including the National Human Rights Defenders and the Liberia National Democracy Monitors (LINDEM) have criticized the police action and called for the resignation of Director Mulbah.

The Ministry of Justice has assured that it will investigate issues surrounding Cllr. Morris arrest.