Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf banned public gatherings of any kind for the next 42 days to prevent the spread of Ebola. The country is in the middle of senatorial elections, but Sirleaf wants to prevent mass bodily contact as much as possible.
Sirleaf signed Executive Order 65, which states “that all concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia during the ensuing special elections, including in particular rallies, demonstrations and parades are prohibited.” A ban will take place for 30 days after the National Elections Commission (NEC) announce the results. Election Day is December 16 and the results are announced on December 31.
Not all Liberians welcomed the executive order. Politicians and lawyers argued it is never right to suspend anyone’s civil rights by banning assemblies.
“The President is politically intoxicated with power and must be halted on grounds of provision of the constitution that calls for freedom of movement,” said Rep. Acarous M. Gray. “Her executive order is unconstitutional and must be halted by a court action.”
Christopher Neyor, Independent Montserrado County Senatorial candidate, believes the order violates Liberia’s constitution.
“By attempting to arrogate onto herself the power to abrogate the Constitution is reminiscent of the dark days of Liberia, where dictators used power, authority and force to brutally trample on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people,” he said. “Executive Order No. 65 directly contravenes Article 2 of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic.”
Liberia established the constitution in 1986. Article 2 states:
This Constitution is the supreme and fundamental law of Liberia and its provisions shall have binding force and effect on all authorities and persons throughout the Republic.
Any laws, treaties, statutes, decrees, customs and regulations found to be inconsistent with it shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no legal effect. The Supreme Court, pursuant to its power of judicial review, is empowered to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional.
Human rights lawyer Tiawon Gongloe said any order that disturbs elections should come from the NEC.
“I find that to be troubling in terms of affecting the democratic space,” he said. “For the purpose of neutrality, impartiality and transparency in the whole process, every restriction or instruction regarding the conduct of the electorates and the candidates should come from the Election Commission. I think the NEC should be left alone, to conduct the process as an independent body. The NEC and the judiciary are the two bodies that are expected to deal with all electoral issues during election and not the executive branch of government.”
Ebola broke out in Liberia in March 2014. As of November 28, there have been 7,635 cases and 3,145 deaths. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) confirmed in November that Ebola cases are declining in the country. Chris Stokes, the head of MSF’s Ebola response, said Ebola could “flare up” again since it is still strong in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea.