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Leading Liberian Lawyer Prevented From Leaving

(New York) - Tiawan Gongloe, one of Liberia’s most prominent human rights lawyers, was prevented from leaving the country and briefly detained on May 12, 2002. Human Rights Watch today condemned the Liberian government for its continuing persecution of human rights defenders, and expressed concern about Mr. Gongloe’s detention, for the second time in less than a month, and denial of his right to freedom of movement.

"The continued persecution of human rights lawyer Tiawan Gongloe symbolizes the Taylor government’s disappointing disregard for the rule of law,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division. “Mr. Gongloe has done nothing more than call on the government to respect human rights.”

Mr. Gongloe was arrested leaving Liberia’s Robertsfield International Airport, after he was prevented from traveling to Sierra Leone as an election observer with the U.S.-based Carter Center Election Observer Team. Mr. Gongloe was waiting to board a plane to Sierra Leone, after passing through immigration at Robertsfield International Airport, when he was informed by immigration officers that he could not leave the country, and had to report to the Immigration Office in Monrovia. Instead of being taken to Immigration, Mr. Gongloe was brought instead to the National Security Agency (NSA). He was held there for four hours, and released to the Catholic Archbishop only after interventions were made on his behalf.

“Given his previous treatment at the hands of the government, Mr. Gongloe remains at great risk of further brutality and intimidation,” said Takirambudde. “President Charles Taylor must immediately end this harassment and intimidation of rights activists.”

There are serious concerns about Mr. Gongloe’s health since he is still recovering after being severely beaten in police custody on April 24, 2002. He was held in a hospital under police guard for one week before being released on bond. No charges were ever brought against Mr. Gongloe.

This incident is the most recent in a spate of arrests carried out by the government since it imposed a state of emergency on February 8, 2002. In the face of renewed rebel action and negative international publicity, the government of President Charles Taylor has become increasingly intolerant of criticism. In particular, the government has intensified its harassment and intimidation of the independent press, civil society groups, and non-violent political opposition groups.

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