Facebook Video Accuses Sime Darby Plantation of Torturing Man for Stealing Palm Nuts

MONROVIA, Montserrado – A video being widely shared on social media shows private citizens at Sime Darby Plantation in Western Liberia torturing a man accused of stealing palm nuts belonging to the company.

The video surfaced on social media last week and shows a man, who identified himself as John David, severely tortured in Grand Cape Mount. David told his torturers in the video that he was born in 1987 and had earlier lived in the Bomi town of Gbar.

It is not clear if the men in the video formed part of the plantation’s private security guards, but posters of the video are alleging that the company carried out the act. Most of the men committing the acts were Liberians, while one man participating in torturing David appeared to be an immigrant.

In the video, the men are also heard asking for shovels and diggers to bury David. It is not clear if he was eventually killed or buried, as the video did not include the ending of the incident.

The Sime Darby Oil Palm Plantation is situated in parts of Bomi and Grand Cape Mount. Zinnah Cassell, a journalist in Bomi, told The Bush Chicken that although he too has seen and heard of the video, he has not traveled to Cape Mount to independently verify the information.

He, however, confirmed that in February, security guards of the Malaysian oil palm company raided Damah town in Bomi on suspicion that residents were involved with palm theft on the plantation.

According to Cassell, several residents, including men and women, were manhandled. He said one of the victims identified as Mike Gibson was severely injured and went missing for days.

He said Gibson was eventually taken by family members to seek medical treatment at Phebe Hospital in Gbarnga. He is expected to be transported to Monrovia to continue his treatment at the request of Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue, who visited the plantation on Sunday.

The management of Sime Darby has, however, said it would not comment on the situation until it investigates the claims.

The company’s corporate communications manager, Toushi Itoka, said the management had not authenticated the video, and therefore it could not release a statement.

“We appreciate your concern and will get back to the general public with a statement on this matter once it is properly investigated,” she wrote in an email response.

The Ministry of Labor says, while it has not been officially notified on the matter, the situation being reported at the Sime Darby Plantation is a criminal and security concern and not uniquely related to labor. The ministry’s communications consultant, James Kwabo, said the Justice Ministry was responsible for taking charge of the situation.

A press release from the police disclosed that the inspector general, during his visit to the plantation, condemned in the strongest term the brutal actions of the plantation security meted against citizens of the concession area, noting that the perpetrators would be made to face the full weight of the law. The release did not, however, speak to the circulated video on social media.

It says Sudue made specific reference to the incident involving the security against Gibson and other residents of Damah and called on the private security guards to desist from making arrests of citizens and keeping them in detention.

“If you grab anyone stealing your palm or engaged in any unlawful acts, it is your duty to turn them over to the Liberia National Police for investigation,” he was quoted in the release.

He also immediately ordered the company to shut down its withholding cell, noting that only the police has the right to operate withholding cells under Liberian laws.

The police chief also mandated the company to turn over perpetrators of the alleged brutality for prosecution and urged citizens to take advantage of reporting violations of their rights to the police.

He at the same time advised the residents of the company’s concession area to remain peaceful and avoid bringing destruction to the company’s investments.

Featured photo by Flickr’s hodag

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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