Liberia Leader Doe Pardons 34 in Coup Plot
President Samuel K. Doe, under U.S. pressure to improve his human rights record, today pardoned 34 people accused of conspiring to overthrow the government last year.
The Liberian Information Ministry said Doe granted “a complete and unconditional pardon to all persons implicated and detained in the aftermath of the failed coup of Nov. 12, 1985.”
Broadcasting from his executive mansion, Doe told the West African nation of 2 million that the pardon was an “act of mercy” to show “that we harbor no evil intention against any of our citizens, including those who may wish us ill.”
The United States, Liberia’s closest ally and economic backer, wants Doe to speed up the return to democracy. Doe has also had trouble making the charges against the alleged conspirators stick in the independent-minded Liberian courts, and has been accused by his critics of intimidating jurors and lawyers.
Took Power in 1980
Doe seized power in a 1980 military coup when he was a master sergeant. Last October, he was elected president by a big majority. The opposition claimed the balloting was rigged.
The following month, rebel soldiers tried to seize power but were swiftly defeated and their leader, former Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa, was killed.
Among those pardoned were Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, a prominent opposition politician, former finance minister and international banking executive. Sirleaf-Johnson, who won a Senate seat in the election, allegedly borrowed an army jeep which was used by rebel soldiers a day later. Witnesses allegedly saw her rejoicing with rebel soldiers and exclaiming “we have done it.”
The indictment said she was seen communicating with the rebels by two-way radio, and that she cooked a meal for the rebels at which the diners were in “festive mood showing joy and happiness.”
Others pardoned were James Holder, a businessman and former president of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce; Roberts Phillips, an engineer and member of the opposition Liberia Action Party, and former Maj. Anthony Marquee, who had pleaded guilty to participating in the failed coup.