Motorbike-taxi Curfew Said to Violate Constitutional Right

A passenger prepares to get on a motorbike taxi in Liberia. The vehicles commonly carry up to four passengers, including babies. - ethanbaronphoto.com

Because the vast majority of Liberians can’t afford personal vehicles, and public transportation is virtually non-existent, people get around primarily in “share-taxis” – small cars that travel fairly specific routes – and on motorbike taxis.

In November, the national police announced a measure that has struck at the livelihoods of motorbike taxi drivers, and drastically affected the public’s ability to get around at night.

A moto-taxi driver cruises for fares. - ethanbaronphoto.com

In response to a reported increase in crime, especially armed robbery, the police imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on motorcycles. Because of conflicting reports, it remains unclear if the ban applies to private operators or just to motorbike-taxi operators. Judging from my experience at 10:15 p.m. at a police roadblock, when I was under the impression the curfew didn’t apply to people coming home from work on their own motorcycles, it’s a matter of interpretation by individual police. The only thing that saved me from arrest and confiscation of my bike were the angry expostulations toward police by a moto-taxi driver also caught at the roadblock past the curfew limit – I think the head policeman at the roadblock only let me go to spite the angry guy.

A passenger signals to a motorbike taxi driver that he wants a ride. - ethanbaronphoto.com

Now, the union representing many motorbike taxi drivers is citing the Liberian Constitution in its call for members to disobey the curfew. National police chief Chris Massaquoi responded to the civil-disobedience call with a warning that anyone breaking the ban would be subject to arrest, prosecution and impoundment of their bike. The Constitution appears to provide some leeway in terms of limiting Article 13’s right for Liberians, and anyone legally in the country, to move freely. That right, Article 13 suggests, can be restricted in order to safeguard “public security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.”

A moto-taxi driver fuels up at a roadside gas station where fuel is sold in glass jars. - ethanbaronphoto.com

Massaquoi has said crime, especially armed robbery, has dropped since imposition of the curfew, but has provided no statistics to support that assertion.

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