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As British Court Moves to Sierra Leone…

Witnesses narrate Police, AML brutality

February 7, 2018 By Regina Pratt

A witness in a landmark human rights violation matter presided over by British Judge Justice Mark Turner at the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel in Freetown yesterday narrated how they were maltreated by an AML staff and some unnamed police officers.

Some One hundred and forty-two claimants from Koinadudgu district in northern Sierra Leone have taken legal action against Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, formerly a subsidiary of African Minerals Ltd, in the United Kingdom.

The British Court has had to move to Sierra Leone to hear testimonies from witnesses who could not travel to the UK to testify in the matter after they were denied visas, which is unprecedented.

During cross-examination under oath, through a British interpreter, by defence counsel Moody, the witness, Yusif Koroma, identified himself as a rice farmer. He said he was working in his swamp on that fateful day when he heard gunshots in the village.

He told the court that he left for the township and upon his arrival saw people running in fear for their lives.

“I started running as I did not know what was happening. When I saw my sister, she advised me to keep running, alleging that a certain Yallan, an AML staff, has instructed the police to open fire at people in the township,” he narrated.

The witness could not tell the court the number of police officers that were firing gunshots, but noted that he saw smoke billowing in the sky, apparently from empty bullet canisters.

He told the court about his outright dislike for African Minerals because, “they took my land which is the means of survival for me and my family.”

He said he was angered by the fact that the AML had destroyed his land and that he reported the matter to the chief, who he claimed, failed to speak on the community’s behalf, adding that he did not receive any money as compensation for his land.

“I do not have the power to stop AML from destroying my land. On the day of the incident, I ran to seek refuge to my mother’s residence after my sister was shot dead. I cannot withstand the scene, but hid myself among some banana trees. As soon as I came out from hiding, I was arrested by two police officers who handcuffed and put me into a white land cruiser where I met Mark Conteh and Tamba Conteh as the police were bringing other people they had arrested to the waiting vehicle,” he further narrated.

Asked who should be blamed for the violence, he remarked: “I will put the blame on AML staff, Yallan, who took me to prison and I was charged to Magistrate Court.”

Another witness, Kadiatu Koroma, a dealer in fruit and clothes who is a resident of the village where the incident took place, said she was not at a certain meeting with youth the night before the incident, but admitted she and four others joined them blockade the road with sticks and stones.

“I saw two trucks load of police but I thought they were in the township to make peace because of the road block. I heard gunshots and firing of teargas in the township,” she testified.

The witness said she was caught by two police officers who beat while on the floor befoire they ordered her to get up.

“I was unable to do so and they dragged me and placed me into an AML vehicle where I met the brother of one Pa Sorie, T-Man, and others seated in the vehicle with some police officers standing,” she told the court.

Meanwhile, the matter, which is slated for six weeks, commenced in the UK High Court on 29th January, 2018 against Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, whose parent company African Minerals Ltd is alleged to have committed human rights abuses against workers and villagers living near one of their mines in Sierra Leone.

The litigants allege that the company played a role in a fatal shooting by police of 24-year-old female, whose uncle is one of the claimants, during a protest over working conditions and salary in the 2012 incident. The AML denies liability for the incident.

Leigh Day is the law firm representing the claimants, while Lawyer Moody is the lead defence lawyer for the defendants.

The trial continues today.