MONROVIA â€“ Unlike many former soldiers who have appeared before two Finnish Courts to either testify for, or against Gibril Massaquoi, a former commander with Sierra Leoneâ€™s Revolutionary United Front, (RUF), an ex-soldier has claimed Mr Massaquoi barely went to the frontlines.
â€œWitness X8,â€ (name withheld to protect him from reprisal), did, however, tell the Turku Appeals Court, which is in Liberia for Massaquoiâ€™s acquittal proceedings that he saw Mr Massaquoi in Lofa.
â€œHe was mainly into documentation,â€ said Witness X8. â€œHe never went on the frontlines.â€
In April 2022, the Pirkanmaa District Court acquitted Mr Massaquoi, also a spokesman for the RUF of aggravated rape, aggravated murder, and abduction of child soldiers. The Court ruled prosecutors didnâ€™t prove his charges â€œbeyond a reasonable doubt.â€
But the prosecution is appealing the verdict to the Turku Appeals Court, arguing that the District Court erred by its decision. The appeals court has heard testimonies from over 50 prosecution witness, who have accused Mr Massaquoi of the crimes.
Many of them have told the court that he committed the crimes, including ordering his soldiers to set fire to buildings that housed civilians. Some have even openly recognised him as â€œAngel Gabriel,â€ the name they alleged he infamously used to commit his crimes, especially at Waterside in Monrovia.
As they did before the district court, Mr Massaquoiâ€™s lawyers are asserting the argument of alibi on appeal. They are arguing at the time of the alleged crimes, he was in Sierra Leone, testifying for the Special Court against some former RUF commanders and Charles Taylor, the former Liberian President, convicted for aiding and abetting the Sierra Leonean civil war.
Talking about his war experience, Soldier X8 told the court he fought in many parts of Lofa, including Vahun, Kamatahun and Kolahun.
â€œWe were in Lofa in 2000, because the war between LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, one of the rebel groups that forced Taylor out of power), and Charles Taylor started in 1999, 2000 to 2002.â€
The man, a prosecution witness, also claimed that he fought in Ivory Coast under Sam Bockarie, a former RUF commander, who some witnesses told the District Court was killed on Mr Taylorâ€™s orders by Benjamin Yeaten, director at the time of the Special Security Service, now Executive Protection Agency, EPS.
Back in Monrovia, the former soldier of the Anti-Terrorist Unit, a force loyal to Mr Taylor, said he fought against LURD rebels on the Waterside new bridge (now King Zulu Duma Bridge), in Vai Town, along the Freeway and in Duala.
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Witness X8 told prosecutors on direct examination that he saw Mr Massaquoi in ELWA 12 Houses Community, Paynesville. He claimed there were many ex-RUF rebels in Liberia helping government forces to fight against LURD. The witness said most of them were fighting on the Waterside Bridge.
â€œCivilian 60,â€ Tuesdayâ€™s first witness claimed to have been a friend to Mr Massaquoiâ€™s girlfriend. Civilian 60 told the court the woman introduced Mr Massaquoi to her as her boyfriend. She said one day, Mr Massaquoiâ€™s alleged girlfriend invited her to a trip with them to Lofa County, where the woman had intended to celebrate her birthday with Mr Massaquoi.
She said while in Voinjama, they were lodged in a hostel, where Mr Massaquoi would often leave them with some soldiers. She said he made occasional visits to the hostel.
Civilian 60 said there was a room in the hostel, full of ammunition and that Mr Massaquoi warned them not to enter the room. But she told the court that one day, the solider providing guard for the room forgot to lock it, so the woman went into the room. Unfortunately, the witness said, she was caught inside the room by Mr Massaquoi, who began to beat her serverely.
Civilian 60 said she went into the room to help her friend, but Mr Masssaquoi shoved her. She claimed she sustained a cut on one of her arms and displayed the alleged scar to the court.
The witness said she and the woman managed to escape the scene of the alleged incident and immediately left Voinjama.
Mr Massaquoi has denied all the charges against him.
The hearings continue on Wednesday.
The coverage of the appeal of Massaquoiâ€™s acquittal is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.