A British court heard testimony of the alleged complicity of a British mining company in police brutality including rape on Tuesday, in an unusual hearing held in Sierra Leone.
Hearings in the civil case, brought by 142 claimants seeking damages from Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, began this week in Freetown, in what is believed to be the first time the British High Court will be heard overseas.
Judge Mark Turner said in a previous hearing in London he wanted to meet the claimants in person.
British courts agreed to hear the lawsuit because the iron ore producer was previously a subsidiary of African Minerals Ltd (AML), which was headquartered in London before it went into administration in 2015.
The court heard testimony from a woman who said she was picked up by police and company workers at her village near the mine while selling oranges in Bumbuna, northern Sierra Leone, in 2010.
“I was molested, beaten and dragged to a waiting vehicle, they tore my clothes and raped me,” the woman told the court, adding she was two months pregnant at the time and miscarried shortly afterwards.
The claimants argue that the company effectively oversaw policing of its mine and surrounding areas where protests turned deadly in two incidents in 2010 and 2012.
Villagers allegedly set up a roadblock to stop the company from incurring on their land in 2012, only to be faced with police who opened fire.
Witness Yusif Koroma said he saw “an AML worker with the police while they were firing bullets, and chasing villagers to arrest them”.
The court is later due to hear of a fatal shooting by police of a 24-year-old female during a protest over working conditions and pay during the 2012 incident.
Astrid Perry, a lawyer in the international claims team at Leigh Day, who is representing the villagers, said Sierra Leone’s Attorney General Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara backed the hearing being held in Sierra Leone.
Legal teams from both sides will cross-examine the witnesses during two weeks of hearings.
Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, which is now a subsidiary of China-based Shandong Iron and Steel Group Co., Ltd, denies liability for the incidents.
The company claims that it has no responsibility for the actions of the police, according to Leigh Day.