Sierra Leone land rights campaigner out of jail

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. – See more at: http://www.farmlandgrab.org/post/view/25822-malen-vs-socfin-ex-mp-freed-but-5-others-still-in#sthash.FoKpzLUC.dpuf

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