Sitting under a shaded hut at a local hotel on a recent weekday, Agnes Reeves Bryant opened up to FrontPage Africa about what the past few months have been like for her and her family.
“She has never broken any UK laws. I can only conclude that this is a political witch hunt to further persecute associates of former Liberian President Charles Taylor” – Laurece Reeves-Bryant
Her sister, Agnes Reeves Taylor, a former wife to former Liberian President Charles Taylor was picked up last June from her home in Dagenham, East London and arrested by the Metropolitan Police War Crimes Unit and charged the following day with one accusations of conspiracy to torture and three accusations of infliction of severe pain or suffering in the performance of official duties.
The charges referred to facts occurred between 23 December 1989 and 1 January 1991.
‘It’s Been Hard for All of Us’
On June 3, 2017, just two days after her arrest, Dr. Reeves-Taylor appeared before the Westminster’s Magistrate Court and her bail application was denied.
She remains in custody. A preliminary hearing was held on 30 June 2017 before the Westminster Magistrate Court and on August 11, 2017, the tribunal refused to grant her a provisional release.
“It’s been hard for all of us especially her children, who now have both parents locked up in prison,” Mrs. Reeves-Bryant lamented in an interview with FrontPageAfrica.
The sister to the former spouse of the former president points to one local organization behind war crimes pursuit of former figures tied to the war and a Geneva-based organization “My sister Dr. Agnes Reeves Taylor was arrested at her home in London on June 1, 2017 by the London Metropolitan Police, interrogated for two days consecutively, charged with alleged and unsubstantiated war crimes covering 1990 and kept in isolation for 12 days without any contact with her family based only on accusations advanced by Civitas Maxima of Zurich, Switzerland through its subsidiary, Global Justice And Research Project headed by Hassan Bility.”
A little over eight months on, her sister, Mrs. Reeves-Bryant argues that even though her sister Agnes was never flagged as a person of interest in the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s testimonies or its final report 2009, she is now being accused and charged by the UK authorities on allegations she says has been put together by Bility and his band of witnesses of heinous crimes allegedly committed in 1990 when even Agnes’s own county has never accused her of any such crimes.
“I believe that my sister was a victim of opportunity and an easy target for Hassan Bility only for financial gain. He doesn’t care how many people and families he hurts as long as he can continue to line his pockets and get rich at the expense of others.”
Mr. Bility, who is the Executive Director of the Global Justice and Research Project when contacted by FrontPageAfrica said the GJRP could not comment on ongoing investigations.
“However, the United Kingdom is a State with rule of law where nobody is arrested without proper investigations and all those accused of crimes have a right to a lawyer and due process. Bility also added that "The court room is the right place where these kinds of allegations should be made, not in newspapers, on radio or online petition".
Bribery and Coercion of Witnesses’ Claim
Mrs. Reeves-Bryant says Investigations carried out by experts and lawyers representing her sister discovered that Mr. Bility resulted to bribery and coercion to procure witnesses against my sister in Liberia.
“When he couldn’t get the cooperation from those who actually knew and worked with Dr. Reeves Taylor, he approached individuals living in neighbouring countries offering the same incentives. This is how he got witnesses to accuse my sister.”
She also took aim at Mr. Alan White, a former Chief of Investigations with the Special Court in Sierra Leone who she describes as an extortionist attached to Civitas Maxima that brought the unsubstantiated charges against her sister.
“He was here in Liberia for months trying to interfere in the election process by attempting to persuade voters to cast their ballots for the candidate he favoured – completely illegal under international law."
"During his time in Liberia, the tried to impress on Liberians that he was acting on behalf of the United States and other western governments – the biggest of all lies."
"Our investigation uncovered his assertion to be completely false. He has been acting on his own, employing intimidation tactics for financial gain.”
Reeves-Bryant says Werner, the head of Civitas Maximas should have known better.
“As a renowned international lawyer, he should have been able to see behind the lies and thrown out the evidence advanced by Bility.
Other international lawyers of his standing who have read the prosecution witness statements he presented to the UK judicial authorities have concluded that they would have never pursued a case against my sister, Dr. Agnes Reeves Taylor at all.”
Born on September 27, 1965 in Liberia, Agnes married Taylor, who was then a former director of Liberia’s General Service Administration, in Ghana.
In that period, Charles Taylor formed of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a militia group whose aim was to oust Liberia’s at the time president Samuel Doe from power.
In 1989, the NPFL invaded Liberia triggering a brutal civil war in which more than 150000 died and half of the population became refugees. Between 1989 and 1991, many Liberian civilians of certain ethnic groups and soldiers of the Liberian armed forces were subjected to extreme violence and killed in the counties of Nimba and Bong.
Taylor’s arrest is the fourth case based on universal jurisdiction in the UK and the first case concerning crimes allegedly committed in Africa. Liberia did not prosecute any individuals for crimes committed during the civil war and no one has been prosecuted in the post-war nation for crimes committed during the war.
For Reeves-Bryant, life for the family has been a living hell with authorities in Britain making it extremely difficult for visitors to see the imprisoned former wife of former President Taylor.
“Only since September 2017 after writing several letters of complaints to the UK authorities and alerting my local MP, I and my sister’s younger daughter were allowed visitations. Under UK law, a prisoner on remand is allowed visitors after 31 days.
This was denied my sister. She’s being held as a category A prisoner in the block where terrorist suspects and convicted terrorists are held. Her eldest daughter and her partner have still not been granted visitation up to now even though the proper documents were submitted.”
Arrest Shocked Family
Looking back at the moments after the arrest, Reeves-Bryant says it was a shocking experience for everyone.
“We were all shocked and disappointed that Agnes was arrested only on the say so of Hassan Bility and his witnesses who we believe are all non- Liberians and from one ethnic group, the Mandingoes.”
Reeves-Bryant explained that the family expected the UK authorities to investigate the allegations before issuing an arrest warrant.
“Instead, my sister was arrested at her home in London on June 1, 2017 by the Metropolitan Police, interrogated for two days consecutively, charged, remanded in custody, kept in isolation for 12 days and then the UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) sent high-ranking police officer to Liberia to look for the evidence - a clear violation of best practice in police gathering procedures. As best practice, evidence is usually gathered to substantiate an accusation before an arrest is made.”
Despite the high-profile arrest and the cloud of uncertainty over Dr. Reeves’ fate, her sister says, she has taken the lead in alerting the highest UK authorities and international organizations, the Liberian government, ECOWAS and the African Union about what she believes is the travesty of justice.
She says she recently penned a letter to President George Manneh Weah and Vice President Howard Taylor asking for their urgent intervention and verification that Agnes is not a person of interest wanted in connection with any alleged war crimes in Liberia. But to date she has not received any reply.
She says she penned a similar letter last August to former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf without results.
“I also wrote a similar letter to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf asking her intervention as well but received no acknowledgement or reply to my letter."
"My sister is totally innocent and suffering unduly for allegations of crimes she never committed or would condone all based on lies advanced by Mr. Bility to further his own financial gain and revenge agenda.
"I question his impartiality in producing witnesses and evidence against my sister, considering that he was a primary witness against her ex-husband, former President Charles Taylor at his trial in The Hague, The Netherlands.”
Amid the hurdles, Reeves-Bryant says she is not happy about the way the case is proceeding against her sister.
“I am totally unhappy with the way in which the case is proceeding. My sister, Dr. Reeves Taylor has been denied bail twice even though her defense met all the requirements for bail both times.
She is being exposed to some of the most deplorable conditions by HM Prison, being kept in solitary confinement, threatened with a long-prolonged prison sentence, even before her trial has begun and being denied basic human comforts whilst incarcerated in addition to being accused of having substantial influence in Liberia even though she has lived in the UK for over 20 years and work in several capacities posing no threat to the UK or its citizens.”
She argues that her sister who has never had a single parking violation in her life, is being treated like a terrorist.
“She has been allowed limited visits from her family up to now, even though proper documents have been submitted and vetting carried out by the police, a clear violation of her human rights. She ought to be treated as not guilty and adequately supported according to in the UK Prison Act 1952.”
‘Political Witch Hunt’ Claims
Reeves-Bryant insists that her sister’s rights as a prisoner on remand are being further violated by endurances of poor and strict prison regime with little access to support services.
“Central to her right is the principle of presumption of innocence that carries with it international standards on the treatment of remain prisoners in the UK legal system, the Prison Standing Orders and the Prison Service Instructions."
"Already Agnes has lost a substantial amount of weight and is now half the size she was when first incarcerated.”
She accused the British justice system of being bias against her sister, partly due to the sins of her former husband.
“She has never broken any UK laws. I can only conclude that this is a political witch hunt to further persecute associates of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.”
For the foreseeable future, Reeves-Bryant says, Liberians and the international community need to move past the wary.
“It’s been almost 30 years since the Liberian civil war, yet the witch-hunting continues. It’s time to reconcile and rebuild the country. Other countries have had civil conflicts and moved on to become great nations."
"Liberia should follow their example. The persecution and witch-hunting of one group of people must end now or Liberia will forever remain under developed and stuck in the pass."
"The Hassan BilityS and Alan Whites must be weeded out of the Liberian society once and for all, and their actions condemned. I’m also afraid that the UK authorities have been played by these individuals which make their actions even more unforgiveable.”