Solidarity from villagers near a Socfin plantation in Côte d'Ivoire
Malen vs Socfin… Ex-MP freed but 5 others still in
Five people involved in the Malen Vs Socfin case continue to languish behind bars while Siaka Sama, the ring leader, got his freedom on Wednesday February 24. The erstwhile Member of Parliament from Pujehun District was fined Le60 000 000 on a two count charge of
“incitement and conspiracy.”
The 6 people, as it could be recalled, were on February 11 found guilty of “conspiracy to commit a crime, incitement and destruction of 40 palm trees belonging to the Socfin Agricultural Company by the high court in Bo.
The six activists are all members of the Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association and they were each sentenced to a minimum of 5 months imprisonment or pay a fine of US$35 000. The ex-MP Siaka Sama was however fined Le60m as he was found guilty of “incitement and conspiracy to commit a crime.”
Meanwhile, the case dates back to 2013 when the 6 people were arrested for allegedly destroying 40 palm plantations, property of Socfin. The civil society has meanwhile opened a bank account to raise money to free the others.
Politico | 25/02/16
Sierra Leone land rights campaigner out of jail
The High Court in Bo has released the leader of land rights activists almost three weeks after he was convicted alongside five others for destroying 40 palm trees that belonged to an agribusiness called Socfin.
Shaka Sama, a former Member of Parliament and the others, all natives of Sahn Malen chiefdom in the Pujehun district, south of Sierra Leone, had accused Socfin, owned by French company Bollore, of land grabbing.
The court also sentenced them to six months in prison and ordered that they pay more than $10,000.
Civil Society groups with support from abroad and some members of the public immediately established a fundraiser, following the verdict, to secure their release but could only raise enough money to free their leader.
Sama told Politico that he was happy for his release and thanked all those who contributed to ensure that he was out.
Asked whether he felt discouraged by the decision of the court, he said: “No. Things like these happen especially when you stand for the right of people. They will punish you for not cooperating with them but I am happy that I stood my ground”.
He added: “I want to appeal to government, chiefdom authorities and the very people who arranged for me to be put behind bars. I want to tell them that I am not deterred. The only way to solve this problem is through dialogue. Let’s sit down as a family and resolve the land crisis”.
Socfin has invested over $100million in the area but landowners and rights groups have consistently accused the company of engaging in a land grab. Landowners are paid $2.5 (less than Le 15,000) per year per acre of land and a one-off payment of Le1million to those who had plantation when the land was sold to the company.
The affected people also said that they no longer had farms to grow their crops on and were only doing subsistent farming which was affecting their livelihood.
SOCFIN has over the years denied any wrongdoing, insisting that it complied with all government laws and regulations governing their operations in that part of the country.