Sierra Leone: Arbitrary detention and continued judicial harassment against several members of the Malen Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA) in three different criminal cases

09/02/2016
Urgent Appeal

New information
SLE 001 / 0315 / OBS 023.3
Judicial harassment /
Arbitrary detention
Sierra Leone
February 9, 2016

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), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sierra Leone.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary detention and continued judicial harassment against several members of the Malen Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA) in three different criminal cases. 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 February 4, 2016, the verdict hearing of the six MALOA members, Messrs. Shiaka Sama, MALOA Spokesperson, Sima Mattia, James Blango, Lahai Sellu, Musa Sellu and Foday Musa, 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 took place before the Bo High Court.

The six anti-land grabbing activists were all found guilty to all of the above mentioned charges. As MALOA’s spokesperson, Mr. Shiaka Sama was sentenced to pay a fine of 60,000,000 Leones (approx. 13,000 Euros) or face six months of imprisonment. The five other activists were sentenced to pay a fine of 30,000,000 Leones (approx. 6,500 Euros) each or face five months of imprisonment. The six of them are currently in detention pending payment of the fine.

The Observatory recalls that several other MALOA members also continue to face judicial harassment in two other criminal cases (see background information).

The Observatory fears that the judicial harassment of the MALOA members only aims at preventing their peaceful human rights activities. Therefore, the Observatory calls on the Sierra Leonean authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all the six activists and drop all charges against them and to put an end to all acts of harassment against them.

Background information:

On October 16, 2013, Messrs. Shiaka Sama, Sima Mattia, James Blango, Lahai Sellu, Musa Sellu and Foday Musa were arrested in Bo and Malen on charges of destruction of growing plants belonging to SAC”, “destruction of growing plants”, “conspiracy” and “incitement” for allegedly brushing palm oil plants belonging to SAC and detained until October 24, 2013 in Pujehun and then Bo. Though the six denied all allegations and despite the absence of evidence, in July 12, 2014, the case was referred to the Bo High Court. The six were then again detained overnight in Bo and released on a 400,000 Leones (approximately 80 Euros) bail. On October 30, 2014, the trial before the Bo High Court began and has been ongoing since then.

Several MALOA members also face judicial harassment in another criminal case. Between January 28 and February 26, 2015, Messrs. Sylvester Kebbie and James Blango, together with nine MALOA supporters [3], were arrested in Malen on charges of “conspiracy, malicious damage”, “riotous conduct”, “destroying growing plants”, “stoning” and “carrying offensive weapons”. This followed an alleged shooting incident at the Bamba village in Malen’s district on January 14, 2015, involving two SAC personnel. Messrs. Sylvester Kebbie and James Blango deny having been present on the scene. Some of the activists spent more than 30 days in detention before being taken to court. The eleven persons were later granted bail and have been appearing in court since. 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. On October 6, 2015, the eleven MALOA members and supporters appeared before the Magistrates Court. The court dismissed three of the six charges against them, namely the charges of “conspiracy, malicious damage”, “riotous conduct” and “stoning”. Several hearings have taken place.

Finally, on September 8, 2015, seven other MALOA members, Ms. Amie Faba, Messrs. Idrisa Fatorma, Mohamed Kebbie, Abu Kebbie, Morie Margai, Luseni Tommy and Momoh Karimu, were arrested on charges of “writing down names of people in the town without the knowledge of the chiefs”. Ms. Amie Faba was responsible for the registration of MALOA members in the village, when she was summoned before the town Chief, who asked her to hand in the list of names. When she refused to do so, Ms. Amie Faba and six other MALOA members were then arrested. Despite the fact that bail in Sierra Leone is free, the detainees were asked to pay 100,000 Leones (approximately 20 Euros) each, before they can be allowed bail. On September 10, 2015, the seven MALOA members were released pending trial, after paying a total of 350,000 Leones.

On November 4, 2015, the trial of the six MALOA members, Messrs. Shiaka Sama, MALOA Spokesperson, and Sima Mattia, James Blango, Lahai Sellu, Musa Sellu and Foday Musa, resumed before the Bo High Court. Both the prosecution and the defence made their final submissions. The court judgement, which was scheduled for January 15, 2016, was adjourned to February 4, 2016.

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 and Foday Musa, as well as of all MALOA members and all human rights defenders in Sierra Leone;

ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Messrs. Shiaka Sama, Sima Mattia, James Blango, Lahai Sellu, Musa Sellu and Foday Musa, and all MALOA members 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: jkawusu-konte@statehouse.gov.sl, jaramenajara@yahoo.comMrs. 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: mission@sierraleonegeneva.ch
· 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: sierraleoneembassy@brutele.be

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

Paris-Geneva, February 9, 2016

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

The Observatory, an 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.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

• Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• 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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