Claim: International Observers have accused the Liberia police of being selective in their investigation of fatal clashes between supporters of the Unity Party and the Coalition for Democratic Change, the News Public Trust Newspaper has reported.
Verdict: Misleading. The Public Trust Newspaper, in a statement, admitted that the report was based on the observation and opinion of their reporter and not an official statement from the observers. Also, the ECOWAS and United Nations observer group have flatly denied berating the police for selective investigation.
On Sept. 29, 2023, supporters of the Opposition Unity Party (UP) and Ruling Establishment Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) were engaged in a violent clash that led to the death of at least two persons and injuries to 20 others in Foya, Lofa County.
The deaths of the two people have received global attention with widespread coverage in the media and condemnation from international organisations.
The identities of the victims who died are yet to be made public. The causes of the violent incident are yet to be confirmed but the Liberia National Police have prompted an official investigation into the violent clash.
However, on Oct. 4, 2023, the News Public Trust Newspaper reported that the International Observers on grounds during the police investigation expressed disappointment in how the Liberia Police was selective in their judgment.
These International Observers mentioned in the claim include the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union Election Observation Mission, and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISAIEOM).
With two supporters reported to have died, DUBAWA found it necessary to fact-check the claim attributed to the international organisations which are mostly decorous in dealing with the issues of local politics.
DUBAWA first contacted the News Public Trust newspaper to find out the basis for the claim made in the report and to ask for evidence either in video, text, or audio of members of the international organisations accusing the police of being selective.
Even before DUBAWA would contact the newspaper, ECOWAS had issued a statement, on Oct. 6, 2023, denying the claims made in the report by the newspaper. The statement jointly signed with other international bodies, in part, accused the newspaper of fabrication and acting below ethical standards.
“ECOWAS EOM, EISA IEOM, and EU EOM would like to jointly assure the public that they have issued no such public statements expressing disappointment with investigations and processes by the Liberia National Police relating to the Foyah City incidents. ECOWAS EOM, EISA-IEOM, and EU EOM wish to distance themselves from any reporting, which is not based on any public statements made by any of the missions. ECOWAS EOM, EISA IEOM, and the EU EOM call on the media publishers to withdraw the fictitious report. ECOWAS and EISA have already issued public statements on the events of 29 September in Foyah City, which are publicly available.”
The statement further reaffirms the International Body’s commitment to respecting and abiding by the rule of law and sovereignty of the Liberian State.
“International Observers are bound by the laws and regulations of their host country. ECOWAS EOM, EISAIEOM, and EU EOM reaffirm their commitment to respecting and abiding at all times by the rule of law and the sovereignty of Liberian state institutions as mandated under the Constitution and laws of Liberia. ECOWAS EOM, EISA-IEOM, and EU EOM are observing campaign and electoral preparations across Liberia and that includes investigations by the LNP on electoral offenses.”
Not happy with the statement of denial issued by the international observers, the Public Trust newspaper also issued a counter-statement on behalf of the editorial board. According to them, their report was not based on an official statement issued by the Observers but rather on their reporter’s observation of the “mood and utterances” of the International observers at the police station during the preliminary investigation.
“In the report of this Journalist, who was present (as participant observer) during interactions between the international election observers and the Liberia National Police (LNP) officers at the local police headquarters in Voinjama, held long conversations with some observers and got a feel of the mood and utterances. The report neither named any observer nor said there was an official statement. But as a news reporter, she got a clear sense of the level of disappointment over how the case was being handled, thus summarizing the mood at the time, like reporters anywhere around the world would do in her lead that was written:”
The Public Trust Newspaper was not happy with the tone and language of the statement issued by the ECOWAS group insisting that their report was fair and credible. They demanded an apology from the observer group.
“At the same time, News Public Trust has strongly rejected insinuation by ECOWAS that this media outlet is an unprofessional institution tainted with unethical and inflammatory reporting.
This characterisation is totally wrong because ever since this online news outlet kicked off in 2017 till current, it has stood up against inflammatory reporting and instead, playing up the need to promote violence-free elections.
”The ECOWAS statement amounts to defaming our news outlet and bringing our institution into public disrepute, we deserve an apology,” the statement said.
Further checks by DUBAWA indicate that the only statement issued by the ECOWAS group concerning the violent incident at Lofa County was on Oct. 5, 2023. That statement did not express disappointment in the police. Rather, it condemned the violent incidents at Foya Lofa County and demanded a “swift investigation and accountability of the perpetrators.”
Even though ECOWAS and others released a statement on the election proceedings in Liberia, they didn’t give an official statement expressing dissatisfaction or disenchantment with the LNP’s investigation process.