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Sierra Leone News: British Court starts Hearing in Sierra Leone

A British High court has for the first time in history moved its sittings to Sierra Leone on allegations of human rights abuses by a London Iron Ore company, African Minerals Limited and its subsidiary company, Tonkolili Iron Ore Limited, against villagers in the Tonkolili district and workers of the mines.
The sittings started on Monday 5th January 2018, with the cross examination of four out of the 142 claimants whom through Leigh Day law firm in Britain, sued the company. The court is not like other typical court sitting in the country with lots of protocols regarding as and when the Judge enters or leave the court during and after any break. The court is an open court established inside one of the conference halls at Radisson Blu hotel in Aberdeen, Western of Freetown with two British white women translating from krio to English and English to krio.
The High Court was presided over by Justice Mac Turner and his clerks and two court interpreters, whereas the Prosecuting team is made of 3 barristers and 4 lawyers and the defense team comprises of 3 barristers and 5 lawyers.
The court was established as a result of allegations by 142 claimants over both African Minerals Limited and Tonkolili Iron Ore Limited over issues of personal injury, complicity in killing, rape, assault and false imprisonment of workers and villagers in Kemedugu and other nearby villages away from the mines site.
The first day of testimony was made by 4 male witnesses and the court will sit in Sierra Leone for a minimum of 2 weeks after they had already spent one week in London. The four witnesses including; James Conteh, Manso Turay, Mohamed Barrie and Fada Kargbo, all from Kemedugu village, gave their evidence in chief, during which two exhibits were shown for clarification including a map of Kemedugu village and a photo of locals posing for a group photo after a certain village gathering.
The 4th Witness Fada Kargbo recalled that he was coming from a nearby village when he heard some gunshots coming from the direction of their stream known as Utinela. He said after that he saw youths running towards his direction being chased by AML staff, Yallan, and the Sierra Leone Police as they fired tear gas canisters into the air.
Kargbo said, he saw Yallan and the police chasing, beating and arresting villagers in Kemedugu village, and later sending them into a Toyota Hilux vehicle with the inscription ‘AML.’ He said before his arrest he was tricked by the police and staff of AML that, they want him to lead the peace talk between the villagers and AML, only to be arrested upon arrival at the mine camp. The 3rd witness Mohamed Barrie, recalled when at Utinela, he saw people runing up and down but was not knowledgeable about what was going on so he asked but he did not receive any reply. He said on his way towards the bridge he saw an AML vehicle coming with police officers who then opened fire in the air while others were firing tear gas canisters.
The 2nd witness Manso Turay, confirmed that 2 days to the incident they were engaged by AML requesting for the construction of a dam on Utinela site with condition that, a proper arrangement is made before commencement of the job. He said it was Yallan that led the AML squad to go and embark on forceful illegal construction on the said land, which was faced with stiff resistance by the youth who barricaded the road leading to the site.
Turay said he was the first person to the arrested at Kemedugu village, beaten and handcuffed and placed at the back of the Toyota Hilux. He was later taken to Utinela site where youth were converging preventing AML from accessing there. He said lots of tear gas was fired and lots of people were beaten, arrested and put at the back of the same truck with him. The witness said they were taken to the AML Camp site where both AML workers and the police rained more injuries, beating, slaps, and abusive words on them. The case was adjourned for today Tuesday 6th January 2018. The entire High Court sitting is expected to last for 6 weeks.
By Mohamed Kabba
Tuesday February 06, 2018.

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