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Dozens of armed police and armed company workers invade a village in Kiryandongo, abducted 4 village members



By Team

Kiryandongo – Uganda – Barely less than a week after Witness Radio – Uganda flagged the abduction of a land rights defender Atyaluk David Richard in Kiryandongo district, a group of 4 village members was abducted on Thursday morning, March, 18th by Kiryandongo police and workers of a multinational company Great Seasons SMC limited.

Eyewitnesses said company workers armed with bows and arrows, under the protection of Kiryandongo anti-riot police, combed Kisalanda – Jerusalem village, Kitwala sub-county in Kiryandongo district from 8:00 am, they entered and searched people’s homes, and abducted family heads.

Great Seasons SMC limited, a solo company owned by a Sudan investor currently based in Dubai, is part of the three multinational companies that are evicting communities off their land for agribusiness investments without any legal process. Other companies include Kiryandongo Sugar Limited owned by the RAI Dynasty from Mauritius and Kenya; and Agilis Partners Limited owned by American twin brothers.

“I saw two (2) police patrols and another pickup truck for the company fully loaded with anti-riot police and workers of Great Season SMC Limited. I counted 32 armed men and when they jumped off the trucks, some family heads managed to flee into bushes while others remained in their homes” Said one of the eyewitnesses

Those that were found in their homes and abducted are identified as, a 60-year-old Sepriano Baluma, Byaruhanga John, Alyangira Francis, and one Frank.

“When they came, they told Frank to remove all his belongings and vacate the area, when he resisted, they grabbed him into their pickup and took him. For Byaruhanga, he was in his kraal when they came, they told him they don’t want to see him and his cows and so he should vacate, when he said he had nowhere to go they picked him. This is the same way other were picked and taken to unknown places. As I speak to you, I am also in hiding. Said frank’s neighbor Kuluwudino Wineza.

Kuluwudino explained that Great Season SMC limited allegedly hired more than 30 men and armed them with bows and arrows to carry out violent acts against natives occupying the land.

According to Benon Baryeija, the chairman of the project-affected people said the even after the abduction of the four community members, the company workers, and agents under police protection, the group continued surveilling the entire village with intent to arrest whoever is seen on the land, they claim they want the land free from the community.

“Some of the families have been calling me, and they are stuck in the bushes where they are hiding from because they fear either to be shot or abducted, they are hungry and have nothing to do. They claim they have been told that this year is different from other years, it’s a year of death if they don’t flee the land, Said Baryeija.

Kiryandongo district police commander, Superintendent of Police, Ondoga Tonny, said he had not received any information yet regarding the abduction.

“Well, let me call my nearest colleagues, I will get back to you,” he said in a phone interview

The abduction has added to scores of community members and land rights defenders affected by the violence.




Natives and Businesses

…..Special Report; Abridged testimony….. Arbitrary arrested and detained for representing PAPs; an experience of the Witness Radio – Uganda lawyer



By Team

Joan Buryerali is one of the seven lawyers who were kidnapped during the COVID-19 lockdown in the Kiryandongo district. The basis for the lawyers’ physical interface with Project Affected Persons (PAPs) was to gather more evidence in the run-up to the numerous cases filed against multinationals at the Masindi High Court.

Since 2017, three multinational companies namely; Great Seasons SMC Limited, owned by a Sudanese investor based in Dubai, Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, belonging to one Mauritius family called RAI Dynasty, and Agilis Partners Limited run by American twin brothers (Benjamin Prinz and Phillip Prinz) that are illegally and forcefully evicting more than 35,000 people off their land.

In March 2020, the Government of Uganda issued a directive halting any land eviction during the COVID period. However, this was disregarded; illegal evictions and violations/abuses of human rights continued across the country. Kiryandongo was among the hard-hit districts. Kiryandongo district recorded the highest level of impunity from some powerful investors and security operatives.

In response to the numerous distress calls, a team of seven lawyers set out to collect real evidence from individual community members affected by large-scale agricultural projects. On 29th June 2020, they traveled 220 Kilometers Northwest of Kampala on a mission to address the increased violence meted against the local population.

The actual work started on 30th June 2020. The lawyers drove 45 minutes deep in villages to meet victim communities and work commenced at 0900 hours East Africa Standard time from the hotel.

According to Buryerali, COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were observed as each lawyer had to keep a distance from each other and 6 meters with the victim being interviewed.

At around 15:00 hours, anti-riot police attached to Kiryandongo district police under the command of ASP Joseph Bakaleke arbitrarily rounded and forcefully arrested all the lawyers plus the seven (7) victim members that were being interviewed.  Police bundled them on a police patrol and another private numbered double cabin vehicle, which was later discovered to be driven by one of the Agilis Partners’ managers.

Below is Joan’s ordeal on the day of the arbitrary arrest and detention;

“We were ordered to stop whatever we were doing and jump onto police vehicles. When we tried to ask for reasons behind our kidnap, the Kiryandongo district Deputy Head of Criminal Investigation Department D/OCCID) Nyakaisiki Beatrice told us it was an order from above. She added that the DPC wanted us at  Kiryadongo central police station.  At that point, we had no choice but surrender ourselves to the gun wielding police officers who took us to the station.

On reaching there, neither was the District Police Commander (DPC) nor the Resident District Commissioner (President’s representative at the district) in office. There was one Ochenge Ismael, (Officer-in-charge of police unit administration) who stood in for the DPC. We tried to explain the essence of our work but our efforts were futile; the intention was to intimidate and have us detained. The sole purpose for this was to instill fear in us so that we abandon the eviction case.

The police officers had been bribed by these multinational companies to humiliate us before the people we were helping. Subsequent to failure to provide answers, the officer in charge ordered us to remove our shoes, enter the police cells, and wait for the DPC who later showed up the following morning.

While at the station, we kept on asking what crimes we had committed to whoever cared to listen. The D/OC CID insisted that it was an order from above.

After like three minutes another police officer came and commanded our team leader to move out. The same police officer returned and told us to vacant his office since it was time for official closure.

When we moved out, we found other police officers degrading and lifting our team leader by his trousers, yet he was calm. Irked by their inhumane treatment, we asked the police officers to stop harassing him. Our verbal exchange with the police escalated and they threatened to beat us. We were again told to remove shoes and leave our belongings at the police reception. We objected because we could no longer trust them. We instead handed over the items to our driver who would later transferred them to the hotel where we had previously spent the night. That evening, we were separated. The female lawyers were put in a congested cell separate from the one designated for men.

The police cell was very horrible! The foul smell was unbearable. The walls and floor were a mess. There was no cleaner space for any of us to scramble. The stench coming from the toilet was sickening if not stomach-turning! The filthy mattresses emitted urinal and faecal stench. The blankets were equally soiled. They had taken ages unwashed. The disturbing atmosphere kept us awake. At different intervals, each of us planted our nostrils on some big hole on the door to catch some fresh air. Kiryandongo police cell was not fit for human habitant. It was unhealthy for human beings to be there. Worst of all you were told to remove our shoes and move barefoot on such a dirty floor. Every single time I think about how dirty the cell was I feel disgusted. We even failed to eat have dinner. We surrendered our share to the women inmates. There was no way one could comfortably eat something in such a dirty place.

We could not use the sanitary facilities inside the cells. The women we found there had infections as a result of the dirty toilets. We instead accessed the outside facilities barefoot. To our dismay, they were also unclean. The following day, as we left the cell I could not touch my soiled and pathetic feet.

At about 9:00 am, Bakaleke Joseph, the then DPC showed up and we were released on bond. However, what saddened my heart was that the police officers knew that we had not committed any crime but detained us to sabotage our work.

At first, we were released without being charged. But for fear of being questioned, they arrested us again. This time we were charged with the offenses of conducting an unlawful assembly and spreading an infectious disease. These offenses were all false and fabricated. We had followed all COVID rules to the letter. Instead, the anti riot police flouted the rules by not wearing masks during the arbitrary arrest.

Immediately after our release, I imagined how our clients had lost faith in us. I felt harassed and belittled in front of the people I was supporting to get justice. Kiryandongo police painted a picture that they were superior and that the PAPs have nowhere to run to for any immediate assistance.

I have a dented professional because of the arbitrary arrest. I am being viewed as a chaotic person if not a criminal. This is because most people think that police only arrest offenders of the law. I no longer have a clear criminal record in the eyes of the public.

Why Criminalization?

Criminalization may be defined as the use of legal framework strategies targeting HRDs to illegitimate the work of HRDs. Its ultimate aim is to attack HRDs and/or impede their work. The criminalization of human rights defenders’ work through the misuse of criminal law involves the manipulation of the state’s punitive power by state and non-state actors to hinder their work in defense and thus prevent the legitimate exercise of their right to defend human rights

Criminalizing Human rights defenders’ work may lead to stigmatizations and delegitimization which affects the honor and public reputation of HRDs. Many analysts argue that stigmatization is part of the criminalization process.  The explanation of why delegitimization, stigmatization, and other forms of disparagement are sometimes equated with criminalization may lie in the fact that they may precede, or occur in parallel to, criminalization processes and that the aim in both cases appears to be to damage the public image of the HRDs so targeted.

“Speaking on behalf of the seven lawyers that were arbitrarily arrested and detained in Kiryandongo during COVID 19 lock-down, the actions of police tarnished our names. A mark was left on our reputation whereby some people in the society see us as chaotic and criminal individuals. Once you’re profiled and your name enters that criminal book, some officials may conclude that you no longer have a clear record.” Said Joan Buryerali

Effects of Criminalization of a PAPs’ lawyer?

There could be more effects to the use criminalize the work of a defense lawyer but, the immediate one is stigmatization. In other words, stigmatization and delegitimization should be considered as causes and/or consequences of criminalization. Criminalization involves the use of criminal charges to attack the work of human rights defenders. It may also be organized in such a way that it questions the personal or professional integrity of the HRDs it targets.

“Some Law firms and Organizations would not want to work with someone who does not have a clean record. They may hesitate to employ you thinking you will become a problem to them. This limits my working opportunities.” Said Bulyerali.

Criminalization may cause a financial burden on the victim HRD. Upon being released either on police bond or court bail, HRDs are required to report back (travel 440 Kilometers on every reporting) until a matter is heard and disposed of. Also, HRDs are forced to hire a lawyer to defend themselves.

Most importantly, criminalization is time-consuming and can ably cause physiological torture. Kampala where I am based and Kiryandongo district, these two places are distant from the other when reporting on police bond or court bail, you need two days on every reporting.

Criminalization has restricted my freedom of expression;

Restrictions on the freedom of expression are aimed at causing generalized fear, intimidating and silencing the denunciations, claims, and grievances of the victims of human rights violations, spurring on impunity, and impeding the full realization of the rule of law and democracy. For stance in Kiryandongo district several lawyers and many community land right defenders, some of them include Stella Akitenge, Atyaluk David Richard, Olupot James, Benon Baryaija and many others have been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment or tortured, just because they are helping victim communities to mobilize, resist and push back such illegal evictions.

Using the restrictive legal framework to criminalize my work.

Some laws such as the Public Order Management Act, 2013 (POMA), Non-Governmental Organizations Act, 2016, the Anti-Terrorism Act, and the Financial Intelligence Act, have been used by some duty bearers to restrict the extent of work/ operations of HRDs.

In 2013, the POMA was passed to regulate freedom of assembly and ultimately the freedom of association. As seen above, the POMA is often cited by duty bearers to restrict civil society space. The law as it currently stands imposes conditions on holding public gatherings and demonstrations and criminalizes meetings held in contravention of section 5 of the POMA.

The police have on many occasions said that we did not ask for permission before conducting a meeting and they break it up. And yet the POMA only mentions giving notification to the authorized officer if the meeting falls within those regulated by the POMA.

Regarding the seven lawyers that were arrested in Kiryandongo by police, it hind behind POMA to detain the lawyers in cells for the whole night with an aim of not wanting them to proceed with their work and intimidate them. These arrests meanwhile are just to scare them trying to instill fear in them that in case they proceed with their work, they will be dealt with.


In many aspects as already demonstrated above, the COVID-19 period in Uganda presented difficulties and effects on the work of HRDs particularly lawyers for the PAPs, which projects a dark future. The challenging situation shared in this article should be used as a precursor to reflect and discuss the best environment for all defenders to do their work.

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Natives and Businesses

Court releases a tortured community land rights defender on bail



Olupot seated with a family member on a bench outside Masindi govt prison shortly after his release .

By Team

Kiryandongo – Uganda – a Grade 1 (One) Magistrate Court in Kiryandongo district has released on bail a tortured community land rights defender who has been in Masindi government prison, found in Mid-Western region of Uganda since April, 11th, 2021.

Olupot James had been charged with threatening violence before being remanded to prison. He entered a plea of not guilty.

Olupoti had been abducted from his home on Wednesday 23rd of March 2021 at 1:00 pm local time located at Kapapula village, Nyamuntende Sub County, Kiryandongo district by a group of six (6) soldiers in UPDF uniform, he was severely beaten in front of his children and wife, unlawfully kept in different detention centers and got tortured before being produced in court on April, 11th, 2021.

Olupoti who looked physically weak, limping, and his body was full of bruises was denied medical treatment while in Kiryandongo district Central Police cells a day before he was produced before court according to Olupot’s family member, who preferred anonymity.

“Olupoti’s abduction and torture are linked to his work of mobilizing communities to resist illegal eviction by Kiryandongo Sugar Limited and being guarded by a national army”. Said a family member.

Apparently, Olupoti’s home is one of several families whose homes are trapped in the middle of sugarcane plantations after their land was grabbed by Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, one of the multinational companies dispossessing more than 35,000 people in the Kiryandongo district. Other multinationals include; Agilis Partners Limited and Great Seasons SMC Limited.

Upon being picked from the prison over the weekend, Olupot’s body was full of scars, and one of his toenails had been plucked out by captors.

“It was very clear that Olupot had been subjected to different methods of torture while in captivity as body scars were very visible and some wounds were still healing,” Said one of the lawyers that secured him on bail.

Olupot was released on a noncash bail of three million Uganda Shillings and he’s required to report back to court on May 11th, 2021.

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Natives and Businesses

Breaking! Kiryandongo human rights situation is presented before the United Nations…



By Team

Geneva – Switzerland – three UN Special Rapporteurs have presented a report on the deteriorating human rights situation in Kiryandongo and Hoima districts before the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling for the World human rights body’s intervention.

In their report, Ms. Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. David R. Boyd, the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment; and Clement Nyaletsossi Voule of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and Ms. Elina Steinerte of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concerns of the continued oppression of land and environmental rights defenders and local leaders who have led and organized the peaceful resistance of their communities against forced evictions and land grabbing by private companies working on sugar cane, coffee and grain growing in the district of Kiryandongo.

The report mentions, land rights defenders Mr. Fred Mwawula, Mr. Ramu Ndahimana, Mr. Samuel Kusiima, Mr. Martin Munyansia, Mr. Martin Haweka, Mr. Amos Wafula, Mr. Eliot Talemwa, Mr. Erias Wanjala, Mr. Godfrey Ssebisolo, Mr. George Rwakabisha, and Ms. Pamela Mulongo and environmental rights defenders Mr. Venex Watebawa and Mr. Joshua Mutale have been subjected to actions of violence which are retaliation for their legitimate and peaceful defense of the environment and their right to land.

“We wish to express our concern over the alleged forced evictions of tens of thousands of persons in Kiryandongo, and the resulting detentions of human rights defenders resisting them. Such detentions take place in an environment that appears to be in revenge for their work opposing land grabbing by private companies who operate in the area, and seem to have the acquiescence of local authorities,” the report reads in part.

Since 2017, Kiryandongo district has been on the spot of violent land grabs by multinational plantation companies namely; the Dubai domiciled Great Season SMC Limited, Cayman Islands domiciled Agilis Partners and Mauritius domiciled Kiryandongo Sugar Limited. The multinationals are dispossessing over 35000 people with the protection security agencies including the army, police, and private security companies.

The rapporteurs thus urged that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence and in the event that the investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, to ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations.

They further informed the UN Human Rights Council that similar letters on the same subject have also been sent to the Governments of the United Arab Emirates, Mauritius, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland, as well as to the companies involved in the abovementioned allegations.

Finally, the rapporteurs demanded that an update report on what actions have been taken within 60 days.


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