Thousands of anti-rape campaigners have been tear-gassed by police in the Liberian capital Monrovia on a third day of protests. The demonstrators were attempting to gather in front of the Liberian foreign ministry to present their petition calling on the government to declare rape a national emergency.
The protest, under the banner “March for Justice” was organised after a 19-year-old boy in rural Liberia allegedly used a razor blade to mutilate the genitals of a 3-year-old girl, which he reportedly thought would enable him to rape her more easily.
Organisers said some 5,000 people have turned out for the protests. People wore black as a sign of solidarity for victims and survivors of rape, holding signs that said “Justice for all Liberian girls and women”, “Stop Rape” and “She could be your daughter”.
They marched on Thursday from the Sinkor neighbourhood to Capital Hill, the seat of the Liberian government. They gathered in front of the foreign ministry, where President George Weah’s office is housed, until they were tear-gassed.
Organisers told RFI that they will remain until Weah receives their petition.
Former president encourages marchers
Some of marchers were prevented from going to the foreign ministry by the police, and gathered in a field across from former Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s home. She saw the women outside, and went to meet them.
“Given the cases that have recently come out where young babies, three months old, ten years old, are violated… the women felt they had to act,” she said, commending them for their peaceful protest.
“Today, they gathered in front of my yard. I could not stay in my house and see all those women out there demonstrating for something that is good for the country and not go there to show solidarity with them.”
The march was organised country-wide, including in the rural areas. Several counties, including Bong County in central Liberia, Nimba County, Grand Bassa County and Maryland County held their own marches to protest the rise of rape cases.
“Enough is enough. We are in a sexual and gender-based violence pandemic in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Naomi Tulay-Solanke, founder and executive director of Community Healthcare in Monrovia.
In the last few months, as confirmed cases of the coronavirus continue to increase in Liberia, the country has registered a surge in cases of sexual and domestic violence, which has pushed people to protest, says Tulay-Solanke.
The protesters are calling for the government to take this issue seriously, especially after the Ministry of Justice Bureau of Correction reported that 900 people are behind bars in connection to allegations of rape.
The rape campaigners say in a seven-month period, from January to July this year, 960 rape cases were reported across the country, not including those that occurred in hard-to reach communities.
“The numbers are higher than what we had last year,” says Liberia Gender, Children and Social Protection Minister Williametta E. Saydee-Tarr.