23/02/21 [Liberia] Day 7: The hearing of Witness 1
The trial resumed after the Finnish judges, prosecutors, investigators, and defense counsel travelled to Lofa County and locations in Monrovia to visit the sites of Gibril Massaquoi’s allegedly crimes. To know more about this, you can read about it here, and see footage here.
The seventh day of public hearings resumed on 23 February 2021, with the trial moving from Tampere, Finland to Monrovia, Liberia, to hear witnesses. The Accused, Mr. Massaquoi, remained in Finland.
Defense counsel questions Witness 1
The day began with Defense counsel, Mr. Gummerus, questioning a Witness. The identity of Witness 1 was not disclosed, and Witness 1 testified with her back to the video feed that was available to trial observers.
Mr. Gummerus began by asking Witness 1 about what she saw during the civil war in Liberia. Specifically, Mr. Gummerus asked if she recalled a day when she was looking for food in Monrovia and ran into soldiers. Witness 1 responded that, while she could not remember the day, she recalled it was the year 2000, which she remembered because it was the year she went looking for food.
Mr. Gummerus then asked Witness 1 to explain what happened to her on the day in question. Witness 1 explained that she joined a group of men and women leaving Logan Town, Monrovia, to go to Vai Town on Bushrod Island. The group, which included two of her friends, was trying to find food. The group began to cross the bridge, going towards Waterside.
Witness 1 explained that when the group got to the edge of the bridge, soldiers stationed at a checkpoint ordered them to stop and form a straight line. As they were following the order, Witness 1 noticed a man wearing a white t-shirt and camouflage pants. According to the Witness, the man stated: “I am the Angel Gabriel Massaquoi. I am the one who can send you to God and you tell him that I sent you.”
Witness 1 further explained that, as he was walking through the crowd he saw her friend [Victim A]. She stated that the man then took [Victim A]’s hand and attempted to take her out of line to a road under the bridge. When [Victim A] resisted, the man shot into the air.
Witness 1 went on to explain that more shots were then fired by some boys who were with “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi”, and the group began to scatter. According to the Witness, shots continued as they started to run. Witness 1 was not sure if it was government troops or rebels who were firing at them. Witness 1 fled to the West Point area and ran into a man’s house, where she slept. The next morning, Witness 1 heard that people were heading back across the bridge, so she decided to join them.
When Witness 1 arrived, she was told to wait and see to what happened to the first group of people who were trying to cross the bridge. Witness 1 testified that while she was waiting, she began to grieve for her friend, [Victim A]. She explained that a boy saw her grieving and informed her that her friend had been killed. At this point, Witness 1 stated that she began to cry for her friend.
As Witness 1 crossed the bridge, she explained that she saw her friend [Civilian 37], who was [Victim A]’s sister. [Civilian 37] told Witness 1 that [Victim A] had been killed. After Witness 1 crossed the bridge, she went home. Witness 1 explained that she did not go back to the bridge again because she was afraid.
After Witness 1 explained what happened, Mr. Gummerus asked if she personally saw her friend [Victim A] being killed. Witness 1 responded that everyone went their own way, and that it was a boy who told her that [Victim A] was dead. Witness 1 did not identify the boy, but noted that [Civilian 37] also confirmed that her friend had been killed. Mr. Gummerus asked if Witness 1 knew how [Civilian 37] found out about her sister’s death, and she clarified that [Civilian 37] told her that she had been present when [Victim A] was taken under the bridge because she had also been taken there, and that boys began torturing [Civilian 37], but she was able to escape.
Earlier interactions with the Finnish police and the events on the bridge
Mr. Gummerus asked Witness 1 if she remembered talking to the Finnish police about these events. Witness 1 explained that she told them the same thing she had just stated. Mr. Gummerus asked Witness 1 about inconsistencies between her testimony now and what she had told the Finnish police earlier. In particular, Mr. Gummerus told Witness 1 that when the Finnish police had interviewed her, their notes said that the Witness 1 personally observed [Victim A] being killed. Witness 1 clarified that the Finnish police might not have understood her, and that when [Victim A] was being taken under the bridge, Witness 1 and others scattered because shots were being fired behind them. She then repeated that [Civilian 37] confirmed [Victim A]’s death.
Mr. Gummerus also questioned Witness 1 about the man who introduced himself as “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi.” He asked Witness 1 who that was and if she understood what role he played. Witness 1 answered that he said he was the commander and that he was “Angel Gabriel […] the one that can take people to heaven.”
Witness 1 then explained that she was so scared by what happened that she stayed in Logan Town. In order to feed her children, she sold wood and potato greens. She stated that stores were not open, so only brave people went across the bridge. Mr. Gummerus also asked why the situation was so bad that people were looking for food. In response, Witness 1 explained that there was fighting and people were scattered – she clarified that the fighting had been going on for a long time.
Mr. Gummerus then asked Witness 1 who had contacted her about these events. Witness 1 explained that only the Finnish police contacted her, and that they had reached her through [Civilian 37]. Mr. Gummerus then asked Witness 1 if she knew how [Civilian 37] had met the Finnish police. Witness 1 explained that [Civilian 37] told her she had met someone named [Employee 1]. She further stated that [Employee 1] had told [Civilian 37] that white people came and wanted to hear people’s views on what happened during the war. Mr. Gummerus asked Witness 1 if [Civilian 37], [Employee 1] or anyone else told her what to say to the Finnish police. Witness 1 responded that [Civilian 37] had only told her that [Employee 1] wanted her phone number to give to the Finnish police, which is how she was contacted.
Mr. Gummerus asked Witness 1 about the multiple wars that occurred in Liberia and if there was peace between the wars. She explained that there were breaks in the fighting. For this reason, different periods were named “World War 1” (WW1), “World War 2” (WW2), and “World War 3” (WW3), but it was the same war in the same year.
Mr. Gummerus then asked if she remembered anything in particular about “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi”. Witness 1 explained that she remembered he had an accent that sounded like he was from Sierra Leone, as he didn’t speak like a Liberian – one could tell when someone from a different country is speaking.
Mr. Gummerus asked Witness 1 about the bridge from Vai Town being closed. She explained that it was closed because of the fighting, and that no one could cross it unless soldiers allowed them to. Mr. Gummerus asked Witness 1 to clarify who was fighting at the time, and she explained that the government forces were on one side, but she was not sure which side the man with the accent, “Angel Gabriel”, was from. Witness 1 supposed that this man may have been fighting for a force opposing the government, but it was difficult to be certain who was fighting for whom, as they all wore the same camouflage.
Mr. Gummerus asked where else in Monrovia did fighting occur. Witness 1 answered that all of the city was affected by the fighting, but the bridge was the main place where it occurred because people used it to go buy. Mr. Gummerus asked Witness 1 the name of the bridge, which she identified as “Old Bridge” – she further elaborated that there are two bridges, one going to Johnson Street and the other going to Waterside. Mr. Gummerus asked if any other fighting occurred on Old Bridge after 2000. Witness 1 explained that even if there were breaks in the fighting, more happened during the same year.
Mr. Gummerus resumed asking Witness 1 about the context of her prior interview with the Finnish police. Witness 1 stated that [Civilian 37] told her that she, Witness 1, was the first to talk to the police. Witness 1 spoke to [Employee 1] on the phone, and he was the one who took her to the Finnish police; she did not discuss the matter with [Employee 1].
According to the police’s summary of the interview, Witness 1 had stated that WW3 was what she was supposed to have been interviewed about, but Defense counsel noted she was talking about WW1 and WW2 in the present trial. Witness 1 explained that she was talking about WW1 and WW2 because there was a break in the conflict. When asked what her understanding of WW3 is, Witness 1 stated that it was just a name for that part of the war. There was a ceasefire, but it was the same war.
The next line of questioning centered around Witness 1’s knowledge of the name of the man who introduced himself as “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi” on the bridge. Mr. Gummerus stated that during the police interview at the end of 2019, Witness 1 did not say the name “Massaquoi,” so he asked how she knew the name “Massaquoi”. Witness 1 insisted that during her interview with the police, she had said the name “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi.” She further stated that, during the incident she had described, he was the only person to introduce himself, and he started to fire shortly after doing so.
Mr. Gummerus then resumed asking Witness 1 about the timing of the incident. She stated that it had happened in 2000. Mr. Gummerus stated that she had said June/July 2003 in her earlier interview and asked if she thought the police wrote it down incorrectly. She said she thought so, pointing out that the police were the ones taking notes, with the assistance of an interpreter.
Mr. Gummerus asked how long after the incident the war ended. Witness 1 stated that it did not take long; she reiterated that her experience was in WW1 and there were breaks in the war between WW1, WW2, and WW3. Witness 1 further explained that after the incident, she stayed with her daughter in Jacob Town for about a year, and then moved to Nimba in 2003.
Witness 1’s earlier interview with the Finnish police
After a ten minute break, Mr. Gummerus played the video of Witness 1’s interview with the Finnish police. Mr. Gummerus wanted to call attention to two things: the name and the year Witness 1 referenced in the interview.
NOTE: The audio from the video was difficult to hear through the video link used to observe the trial. In the video, it appears that Witness 1 described the incident at the bridge. She explained that she and other women went to the market to sell things around the West Point area near the “Old Bridge”. She stated that a lot of people were beaten and three boys were killed. She said that a tall man with a Sierra Leonean accent who called himself “Angel Gabriel” took [Victim A]. He brought her back and killed her with his gun. He also killed three boys. Witness 1 said that they escaped when Liberian soldiers came. Witness 1 noted that she had been 2 months’ pregnant at the time and miscarried after this event.
After the video was played, Witness 1 confirmed that she remembered the interview. Mr. Gummerus pointed out that in the interview she did not state the name “Massaquoi”, although she had just stated that she did. Witness 1 acknowledged that while she did not say “Massaquoi” in the interview, that was what he had said: “I am Angel Gabriel Massaquoi.”
Mr. Gummerus then again focused on the timeline of the events, asking whether Witness 1 wanted to explain why she told the Finnish police that the incident happened in 2003, but now was stating that it occurred in 2000. Witness 1 responded that she said 2000 because the war started in 2000. Mr. Gummerus followed up by asking why she had not said that it was 2003 when he had questioned her before, and she said it was because the war lasted until 2003. Mr. Gummerus pressed further on this point, noting that the Finnish police had asked her about the time of her experience with “Angel Gabriel,” rather than the war. He also pointed out that she had just said the war was from 2000 to 2003, but she had previously said the war was in 2000. Witness 1 explained that she had said 2000 because that was when the war started and there were breaks in the war. This concluded Mr. Gummerus’s questioning of Witness 1.
The Prosecution questions Witness 1 about events
The Prosecution then began its questioning of Witness 1. First, the Prosecution referred to the interview recording in which Witness 1 described “Angel Gabriel” killing the three boys and [Victim A], and then asked whether she had witnessed these killings with her own eyes. Witness 1 clarified that someone else had told her of those deaths. The Prosecution asked if anyone told her before her testimony not to talk about the deaths. Witness 1 denied this.
The Prosecution then asked about Witness 1’s sister. In the recording, Witness 1 said her sister had been killed in Freeport, and she mentioned Gabriel in connection to that. Witness 1 clarified that it was not “Angel Gabriel” who killed her sister. – her sister was killed at a warehouse in 2000.
The Prosecution also asked about [Civilian 37] being interviewed by the Finnish police with regard to the same incident. He stated that, when Witness 1 was asked about this, she had said [Civilian 37] did not say she had already been interviewed, but simply that [Employee 1] wanted to speak with her. The Prosecution noted that in his view, when the Finnish police mentioned [Civilian 37]’s interview, Witness 1 already knew about it.
Finally, the Prosecution asked if Witness 1 tended to tell stories as if they had happened to her when in fact they were about things she had heard about, but not seen personally. Witness 1 denied this. The Prosecution asked if that was what she had done during the interview with the police. To this, Witness 1 simply responded that she, [Victim A], and [Civilian 37] had all been together throughout this experience.
The hearing concluded and will resume in Monrovia on Wednesday, 24 February 2021.