The Weala Magisterial Court in Margibi County has denied a petition by human rights advocacy group Green Advocates, citing reasons that points put forth by the group’s legal team about transferring the case of attack on some residents around the operational area of the Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC) were not genuine enough to have the case transferred.
Green Advocates of recent took some men identified to be loyal to the Salala Rubber Corporation to the Weala Magisterial Court for allegedly attacking advocates and villagers who were protesting against the company’s operation for land issue.
In Green Advocates’ petition, it contended that going through the case in the area of the incident that led to court action will generate prejudice and public sentiments whereby some will begin to identify witnesses and, if any of the witnesses is related to a defendant, the issue will be the talk of the town, thus playing on the mind of the witness.
Additionally, and most importantly to the Green Advocates, it contended that the Stipendiary Magistrate of Weala, Marthaline Peters, prior to the case of the attack reaching the court, had issued a statement through written communication earlier referring to the complaint of those attacked and Green Advocates as lies and misleading information, something the prosecution said undermines the integrity of the court to preside over the case and therefore should transfer it to either Bong County or Monrovia where the presiding court will do due diligence to examine well the sanity of the case.
“Considering these points, it is only good for the court to transfer the case because this is in line with our Judicial Canon,” contended the legal team of Green Advocates.
The Green Advocates legal team also said the issue of security for the witnesses in the area where the case is adjudicated was important and therefore transferring it will be beneficial not only to Green Advocates but to the defendants as well.
However, the legal team of the defendants and the SRC debunked the argument of Green Advocates and questioned the prosecution representing the Ministry of Justice as to how it can have fear for security when it is the one responsible to provide security for the state.
The court, on the other hand, ruled that the Stipendiary Magistrate in question is not presiding over the case and therefore her communication has no basis in the case. But the prosecution in an exclusive interview indicated that Marthaline Peters being the Stipendiary Magistrate of the court has influence over the assistant magistrate and all other court officials there, and this influence can easily get the case to be treated with bias instead of merit.
In spite of the ruling, the prosecution team said they will insist for the transfer of the case and if continuously refused by the court, they will proceed to a higher jurisdiction that will compel the magisterial court to transfer the case.
When a member of SRC’s legal team was contacted for an interview, he refrained on an excuse that the case is in court and cannot comment to the media as far as the court rule is concerned.
As the case was ongoing, disenchanted villagers surrounding the operational area of SRC had gathered with placards of different inscriptions calling on the company to return their land to them.
SRC was granted a concession by the Liberian Government far back in 1959, and in 2007 it began an expansion campaign after receiving US$10 million loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
Since this campaign began, villagers have accused the company of taking over their land and driving them from their villages where they had their tree crops and sacred bushes. The IFC has in this regard instituted what it calls “Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO)” to investigate the allegation to which SRC has refused to comment on it yet to the media after many times of calls.
During the protest in the courtyard, the villagers in separate interviews said they need their land back and SRC, being a company that does not give them employment opportunities and or provides them any benefit as corporate social responsibility, should vacate their land of inheritance.
According to the aggrieved villagers, the company has a divide and rule method whereby it hires a few persons connected to the villagers to counter their protest; the strategy they claim was used to attack some advocates in the villages in recent times for which the attackers were taken to the court with SRC. There were nine defendants in court with some still on the run.