Sierra Leone : Judicial harassment of land rights defenders

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FIDH | 26 March 2015

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

Sierra Leone : Judicial harassment of land rights defenders

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sierra Leone.

Description of the situation :

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing judicial harassment against several members of the Malen Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA) via two criminal cases, including Mr. Shiaka Sama, MALOA Spokesperson and nine of his colleagues, Messrs. Sima Mattia, MALOA’s secretary, James Blango, Lahai Sellu, Musa Sellu, Foday Musa and Sylvester Kebbie. MALOA members. For the past three years, MALOA has been monitoring and denouncing the negative human rights impact of the activities of Socfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Ltd (SAC) in Malen’s district, in particular acts of land grabbing [1].

According to the information received, on March 20, 2015, the fourth hearing in a trial held against six members of MALOA, namely Messrs. Shiaka Sama, Sima Mattia, James Blango, Lahai Sellu, Musa Sellu and Foday Musa took place before the High Court. The six MALOA members were arrested on charges of destruction of growing plants belonging to SAC”, “destruction of growing plants”, “conspiracy” and “incitement” [2] for allegedly brushing palm oil plants belonging to SAC. Detained between October 16 and 24, 2013 all members, were then released. Though the six denied all allegations and despite the absence of evidence, in July 12, 2014, the case was referred to the High Court. The six were then again detained overnight and released on a 400,000 Leones (approximately 80 Euro) bail. On October 30, 2014, the trial before the High Court began. One of the six, who is currently detained, was not brought to the court for the hearing of March 20, despite a court order. The next hearing is scheduled on April 26, 2015.

Several MALOA members also face judicial harassment in another criminal case. Sylvester Kebbie and James Blango, together with nine MALOA supporters [3], were arrested between January 28 and February 26, 2014, on charges of “conspiracy, malicious damage”, “riotous conduct”, “destroying growing plants”, “stoning” and “carrying offensive weapons”. Some of the activists spent more than 30 days in detention before being taken to court. This followed an alleged shooting incident at the Bamba village in Malen’s district on January 14, 2015, involving two SAC personnel. Sylvester Kebbie and James Blango deny having been present on the scene. On March 24, 2015, the two were refused bail by the Magistrates Court for the fourth time. It should be noted that the group does not have proper legal representation as the lawyers who represent them in court have been doing so on a voluntary and occasional basis. During this last hearing, lawyers of the defendants walk out of the court room to protest against the unfair treatment of their clients.

The Observatory fears that the two criminal cases only aim at sanctioning their peaceful human rights activities. Therefore the Observatory calls upon the authorities of Sierra Leone to put an end to all acts of harassment against them as well as against all human rights defenders in Sierra Leone.

Actions requested :

Please write to the authorities of Sierra Leone and ask them to :

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Shiaka Sama, Sima Mattia, James Blango, Lahai Sellu, Musa Sellu, Foday Musa and Sylvester Kebbie, as well as of all human rights defenders in Sierra Leone ;

ii. Release immediately and unconditionally Messrs. James Blango and Sylvester Kebbie, as well as the nine MALOA supporters, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to only aim at sanctioning their human rights activities ;

ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against them as well as against all human rights defenders in Sierra Leone ;

iii. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular :

 article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,

 and article 12.2 which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration” ;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Sierra Leone.

Addresses :

Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, State House, State Avenue, Tower Hill, Freetown, Sierra Leone, [email protected], [email protected]
Mr. Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana, Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone
Mr. Franklyn B. Kargbo, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice
Mrs. Francess P. Alghali, Secretariat of Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, NEC Building, OAU Drive, Tower Hill, Freetown
Her Excellency Ms. Yvette Stevens, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva Chemin Louis-Dunant 15B (3rd Floor), 1202 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax : +41 22 730 17 40, email : [email protected]
H.E. Dr Christian S. KARGBO, Ambassador of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the Kingdom of Belgium and Head of Mission to the European Union, Embassy of the Republic of Sierra Leone avenue de Tervueren 4101150 Brussels, Belgium, Fax : 02/771.11.80, email : [email protected]

Please also write to diplomatic representations of Sierra Leone in your respective countries.

***

Paris-Geneva, March 26, 2015

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

Défenseurs des droits humainsObservatoire
Mise à jour le 27 mars
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line :

• Email : [email protected]
• Tel and fax FIDH : +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT : + 41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29

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Notes
[1] In March 2011, Socfin Agricultural Company (SL) Ltd (SAC), subsidiary of Belgian-based Socfin group, leased more than 6,000 Ha of palm oil plantation in the district of Malen for a minimum of 50 years.
[2] Only MALOA’s spokesperson Shiaka Sama is facing incitement charges.
[3] The nine are Messrs. Ibrahim Sengeh, Sumaila Murana, Ishmael Bockarie, Abu Moiwo, Sao Rogers, Vandy Sumaila, Foday Setua, Foday Mansaray and Mustapha Sengeh.
Original source: FIDH
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