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19 Nov 2019

Kemo Cham, Farmland Grab

Sierra Leone: Environmental rights group sued for defamation by multinational agribusiness firm

‘Sierra Leone environmentalist fights contempt charges in High Court’ 9 November 2019

The High Court of Sierra Leone on Thursday adjourned a contempt of court hearing against the rights campaign group, Green Scenery, after the plaintiff, the multinational agribusiness firm SOCFIN failed to turn up in court. Justice Komba Kamanda adjourned the case to November 19th after a brief appearance of the defense on the first day of the hearing. It also followed an application by the Defense Counsel, Lawyer Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, for a judgment that led to the contempt charges to be set aside. Abdulai is also seeking the court to ascertain the veracity of the ruling supposedly passed by a lower court against his client. Green Scenery, through its Executive Director Joseph Rahall, was initially sued for defamatory libel by SOCFIN in connection to the firm’s battle with campaigners over its operations in the southern region of the country.

In 2011 SOCFIN obtained a 50-year lease for 6, 500 ha of a fertile land in Sahn Malen Chiefdom in Pujehun District, where it cultivates palm oil for export. But it has always faced opposition from locals who accuse the company of destroying their livelihoods. They have organized themselves under a community-based rights defenders group called the Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA). Green Scenery, on the other hand, works on Environment Protection, Human rights, land governance Advocacy and sustainable Human Security. The organization has been working with MALOA in providing capacity building since its inception. SOCFIN was offended by a report done by Green Scenery earlier this year, which outlines the issues around the company’s operations. The report titled: ‘Land Grabbing for palm oil in Sierra Leone,’ looked at the human rights implications of SOCFIN’s activities.

…SOCFIN, according to Thursday’s proceeding, claimed that it published the outcome of the default judgment in national newspapers. But the defense counsel said the court couldn’t have published the outcome of such a ruling without informing the other party. Lawyer Pa Momoh Fofana, counsel for SOCFIN, would not comment on the issue because it is already in court. Abdulai is also representing 18 members of MALOA who were also scheduled to appear before a magistrate court in a separate case involving SOCFIN on the same day. MALOA is headed by Independent Member of Parliament, Sheika Musa Sama. The accused were arrested following a land conflict between aggrieved land owners and SOCFIN. That incident in January led to the death of two people.