Prosecutors in acquittal hearings for Gibril Massaquoi attempting to clear the issue of reasonable doubts that saw a Finnish District Court exonerated the former Sierra Leonean rebel commander of alleged crimes in Liberia nearly a year ago, but some of their witnesses seem to be letting them down.
Gibril Massaquoi’s acquittal hearing is before a three-judge panel.
The three prosecution witnesses, who testified before the Turku Appeals Court on Thursday provided prior inconsistent statements about alleged murders and rapes; the former Revolutionary United Front, (RUF) commander committed during Liberia’s second civil war.
According to the report, “Witness X7” (the Court assigned code names to the witnesses to protect them from reprisal), had told Finnish police that he met Massaquoi three times between 2001 and 2002. And he did say on cross-examination that he met Massaquoi four times.
“Some of these things, I couldn’t remember at the time,” said Witness X7. “But later, I met my sister who reminded me about some.”
However, inconsistent testimonies by witnesses formed a significant part of the trial court’s 850-page acquittal verdict in April 2022.
Meanwhile, the Court said the prosecution did not prove beyond “a reasonable doubt” that Massaquoi, a witness for the then UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, sneaked out of a “safe house” and went to Liberia to commit the alleged crimes.
And with the appeal hearings in Liberia nearing their closing stages, the issue is once again coming up too often, with some prosecution witnesses not only contradicting themselves about key dates of Massaquoi’s alleged crimes but also where they allegedly took place.
Furthermore during the direct examination on Thursday, “Witness Y1,” another prosecution witness told the court that he was captured by Massaquoi as a child soldier in Sierra Leone in 1999 and taken to Lofa County along with other RUF figures.
But during cross-examination, he admitted telling Finish police and the District Court that it was “Superman,” who was believed to be one of Massaquoi’s soldiers, who did the alleged act to him.
“I said it was Massaquoi because he gave the order to Superman,” Witness Y1 said.
Y1 also told the court that Massaquoi was also known as “Angel Gabriel” (the name many witnesses have claimed was one of Massaquoi’s war names), but during the cross-examination, the defence reminded him that he had told the police that he had never heard the name before.
“I can’t remember telling the police that I have never heard anybody using Angel Gabriel. It’s a long time so I can’t remember.”
Another prior inconsistent statement that defence lawyers grilled him about was an accident he told the police and District Court he and Massaquoi were involved in the Waterside Bridge (now King Zulu Dumba Bride). However, on Thursday, he said something different.
“I remember the accident, but I do not remember exactly where the accident happened,” he said.
Vanne Kimmo, the presiding judge of the Turku Court of Appeals confronted him about his testimony to the District Court, in which he said they were involved in three different accidents.
He said: “It’s been long, I can’t remember everything.”
“Witness X7,” another prosecution witness, corroborated the testimony of a prosecution witness who testified on Tuesday about an alleged act of sexual assault by Massaquoi against her friend.
But he gave different names of the two women allegedly involved in the incident.
The coverage of the appeal of Massaquoi’s acquittal is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.
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