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Liberia
13.12.16
Urgent Interventions

Judicial harassment and threats against Mr. Alfred Lahai Brownell, Lead Advocate of Green Advocates

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URGENT APPEAL - THEOBSERVATORY

LBR 001 / 1216 / OBS 106

Threats /Judicial harassment /

Arbitrary detention /Release

Liberia
December 12, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, apartnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requestsyour urgent intervention in the following situation in Liberia.

Description of the situation:

TheObservatory has been informed by reliable sources about the judicial harassmentand threats against Mr. Alfred Lahai Brownell, Lead Advocate of GreenAdvocates[1],and his staff.

Accordingto the information received, on October 28, 2016, plain clothed policeofficers, who allegedly appeared under the influence of alcohol, visited GreenAdvocates’ premises in Monrovia and presented staff members with an arrestwarrant issued on October 28, 2016 against Mr. Alfred Lahai Brownell and anunidentified “office assistant” for allegedly failing to respond to a subpoenaenquiry to provide testimony in connection with a war crimes case involving Gusvan Kouwenhoven, a Dutch citizen[2].At the time of the visit, Mr. Brownell was not present in Green Advocates’offices.

OnNovember 2, 2016, plain clothed security officers from the Liberia NationalPolice stormed into Alfred Lahai Brownell’s home in order to arrest him, armedwith a second arrest warrant issued on October 31, 2016. This time, the warrantmandated the Liberian security and police forces to arrest not only Mr. AlfredBrownell and an “office assistant”, but also “others to be identified”, whichwas apparently interpreted by police to apply to all staff members of Green Advocates. Green Advocates’ AdministrativeOfficer, Mr. Aaron Abban, was informed by his neighbours that policeofficers visited his home and asked about his location. Three other seniormanagement staff members at Green Advocates – Messrs. Francis Colee, Deputy Director and Head of Programs, Maminah Carr, Head of Secretariat ofthe Natural Resources Women Platform, and PaulLarry George, Chair of the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD), alsoreported that security personnel visited their homes and communities makinginquiries about their whereabouts and locations.

Athird arrest warrant was issued on November 1, 2016, mandating securitypersonnel to search for Mr. Alfred Lahai Brownell, an office assistant and“others to be identified charged with criminal contempt of court” at Mr.Brownell’s home and the office of Green Advocates.

Onthe morning of November 2, 2016, around 7:30 AM, security agents forcibly enteredMr. Brownell’s home. As Mr. Brownell was absent, they arrested his uncle, JohnBrownell, without providing any legal ground for it. After nine hours indetention, he was released after paying a fine of 100 USD. Fearing for furtherarbitrary arrests and detentions, Green Advocates’ staff could not return totheir offices, and several decided to go into hiding, taking along some oftheir family members.

OnNovember 21, 2016, the arrest warrants and contempt proceedings against Mr.Alfred Lahai Brownell and his office assistant were officially dropped after amotion filed by their lawyer to purge the writ. As of writing this appeal,Green Advocates staff members are hoping to return home and resume their humanrights work, in spite of the precarious safety situation they continue to face.

The series of arrest warrants seems to be linked to the community-basedadvocacy work carried out by Green Advocates throughout Liberia, especially inSinoe County, where the organisation assisted communities to file a complaintover rights abuses by palm oil company Golden Veroleum, a subsdiary of theSingapore-listed company Golden Agri Ressources. High-ranking officials of theGovernment of Liberia, including the President of Liberia herself, havepublicly condemned Green Advocates for undermining national sovereignty throughthe use of the grievance mechanism of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil(RSPO)[3].

TheObservatory strongly condemns the arbitrary and disproportionate nature of thearrest warrants and the way in which they were executed, which clearly aim atsanctioning Mr. Alfred Lahai Brownell and all of Green Advocates staff fortheir legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory is concerned bypotential negative repercussions of this criminalisation campaign on thesecurity of Mr. Alfred Lahai Brownell and all of Green Advocates staff.

TheObservatory would like to recall that the Liberian authorities have beensystematically harassing members of Green Advocates since 2014[4].Highly placed officials in the Government have accused them of fraud,terrorism, economic sabotage and sedition. The defamation campaign also tookplace through press articles in which Mr. Alfred Lahai Brownell has beenaccused by Salala Rubber Company of trespass and “terrorising” its employees byorganising “mass meetings” on a rubber plantation in the Margibi County. Theiroffices have been raided, and their community clients face frivolous criminalcharges, illegal detentions threats of potential judicial harassment. The Observatoryfears this systematic pattern of harassment and threats is linked to GreenAdvocates’ work to defend the rights of indigenous communities impacted bylarge-scale oil palm and rubber production in the country.

The Observatory calls upon the authoritiesto immediately cease all forms of harassment, including at judicial level,against Mr. Alfred Lahai Brownell and Green Advocates, their local communityclients, as well as against all human rights defenders in the country.

Moreover, the Observatory urges theLiberian authorities to conduct a thorough, impartial, and transparent criminalinvestigation into the various threats and acts of violence and invasionagainst Green Advocates and its community-based allies, and to adopt all thenecessary measures to ensure that Green Advocates can resume their human rightswork, in particular their work in support of rural communities.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Liberia asking them to:

i. Putan end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, as well assurveillance and threats against Mr. Alfred Lahai Brownell, members of his family,and all Green Advocates’ staff as well asagainst all human rights defenders in Liberia;

ii. Guaranteein all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. AlfredLahai Brownell, members of his family, all Green Advocates’ staff and all humanrights defenders in Liberia;

iii. Conduct a thorough, impartial,and transparent criminal investigation into the above-mentioned acts in orderto identify those responsible, bring them before a competent and impartialtribunal, and apply to them the sanctions provided by the law;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration onHuman Rights Defenders, in particular with its Article 1, 6(a) and 12,2;

v. Ensure inrespect in all circumstances for human rights and fundamental freedoms inaccordance with international human rights standards and internationalinstruments ratified by Liberia.

Addresses:

· Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,President of Liberia. Email: info@emansion.gov.lr

· Cllr.Fredrick Cherue, Minister of Justice and Attorney General. Email: somahm@moj.gov.lr

· BartholomewB. Colley, Acting Chairperson, Independent National Commission on Human RightsLiberia. Email: bbcolley1961@gmail.com

· LiberiaPermanent Mission to UNOG. Fax: +41 (0)22 761 5601. Email:p.mission@liberia-unog.ch

· Embassyof Liberia in Brussels. Fax: +32 (0)2 411 09 12. E-mail:info@embassyofliberia.be

Please also write to the diplomatic missionsor embassies of Liberia in your respective country.

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