The British Government has confirmed it is investigating reports that ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor, jailed for war crimes, allegedly phoned political allies from inside a maximum security prison in the north of England.
In 2012, Taylor was convicted of 11 counts of war crimes, slavery, rape, recruiting child soldiers and aiding and abetting the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the 1991-2002 civil war. Some 50,000 people died during the conflict.
Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence for crimes against humanity at the cost of the British government, after the UK answered a United Nations appeal for a country to host the war criminal after his conviction.
The UK Government said it has opened an investigation into Taylor's alleged phone call. "The UK has discussed this at the highest levels with the Liberian government and we are investigating," a UK Foreign Office spokeswoman is quoted as saying by BBC.
The inquiry follows earlier reports by Africa Confidential magazine that Taylor appeared to use a landline inside Frankland prison, near Durham on 28 January this year to make a phone call giving political advice to his supporters in Liberia.
Both the magazine and the BBC said they heard a recording of the alleged call, in which:
- Taylor's supporters put him on their phone's loudspeaker and applause and cheers can be heard as he speaks
- Taylor castigates former allies who turned against him and assures supporters that he has never abandoned them
- Taylor advises them to avoid people who would betray his National Patriotic Party (NPP) party, saying: "Go back to the base and everything will be fine"
- Taylor says: "I'm in a cell but I'm not in prison because my mind cannot be in prison," and describes himself as a "sacrificial lamb"
In the UK, prison guidelines stipulate prisoners should not communicate any material which would create a threat or risk of violence or physical harm to any person, or endanger public safety.
MP Chi Onwurah, chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Africa, warned that Taylor's influence "has the potential to threaten peace in Liberia," given the forthcoming election expected to be held on 10 October 2017.
Asked to respond to the report, the UK Ministry of Justice said it does not comment on individual cases.