Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Janet Johnson

Janet Johnson

Massachusetts Peace Action will join with other groups to present the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”, about women’s nonviolent struggle to end the Liberian civil war, along with a talk by Janet Johnson.

The film will be shown Thursday, March 29, 6:30 p.m., in the lecture hall of the Cambridge Public Library, main branch, at 449 Broadway. The event is cosponsored by the Cambridge Peace Commission, Congo Action Now, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – Boston Branch.

The documentary gives a summary of women’s use of nonviolent actions in 2003 to end Liberia’s 14 year civil war. The war started when Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia, NPFL, invaded Liberia on Christmas Eve 1989. By March 1990, one of Taylor’s rebel generals, Prince Johnson, broke away to form the independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, INPFL, the faction that eventually caught and killed President Samuel Doe on September 9, 1990.

For 14 years women, men, children and the elderly were harassed, raped, killed even massacred or burnt alive in churches and in their own homes. Thousands more were fed to alligators and crocodiles. Babies were snatched from their mothers and cut into pieces or fed to reptiles. The lucky ones had their limbs cut off in stages – long sleeves, short sleeves or sleeveless arms. Hundreds of pregnant women died as rebels cut open their stomach after placing bets over the sex of the unborn child. Others complained of having been gang raped until they gave birth to their child. Hundreds of thousands of survivors may have survived the war with their limbs intact but remain psychologically traumatized for life.

The role of the United States still remains unclear to many. There are rumors that the U.S. freed Taylor from jail with the aim of sending him to Liberia to depose Dictator and President Samuel Doe who had fallen out with United States. The United States has denied the allegation but gives no reason why Taylor was not rearrested after his whereabouts was disclosed.

It has been widely speculated that the United States was responsible for Taylor’s war machinery and his unleashing of terror against Liberia and its people. While the Pentagon remains tight lipped about its relationship with Charles Taylor, Taylor has confessed that United States did aid his escape from its maximum security prison near Boston (Plymouth County Correctional Facility) in 1985. After his breakout in Plymouth, Taylor told the court, he recruited 168 men and women for the National Patriotic Front for Liberia and trained them at a former US military base in Libya.

The horrors of the war may seem a thing of the past but Liberia as a nation is still grappling with its effects. Liberians also remain grateful to the U.S. for finally being responsible for Taylor’s trial in The Hague for his involvement in the 11 year war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Janet Johnson, a Liberian journalist who is featured in the film, will give a talk after the film. The president of the Female Journalists Association of Liberia at the time, Johnson was one of the strategic leaders in the Peace Movement. She is now a Master’s student at the University of Lowell and an intern with Massachusetts Peace Action.

The President of the Women’s Movement of Liberia at the time, Leymah Gbowee, who is also extensively interviewed in the film, and the current President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for their part ending Liberia’s civil war.

Congo Action Now will give an update on the Congo Conflict Minerals bill which is currently pending in the Massachusetts Legislature. The Congo conflict has several similarities with that in Liberia: both are driven by the scramble for mineral resources, and both conflicts have been especially destructive of women’s lives.