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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Front Line Defenders condemns the continued harassment of land rights defenders in Kiryandongo

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Front Line Defenders condemns the continued harassment and arbitrary detention of land rights defenders in the Kiryandongo district, which appears to be part of a pattern of reprisals for their activities mobilising local communities to defend their land rights and oppose the forced evictions perpetrated by the private companies Agilis Partners, Great Season Company Limited and Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, which have been implementing farming projects in the area.

While land rights defenders Godfrey SsebisoloErias Wanjala and Fred Mwawula are awaiting trial on charges of trespassing on private land, other defenders opposing the illegal activities of the three companies in Kiryandongo are being subjected to arbitrary arrests, judicial harassment, violent attacks and intimidation.

On 25 March 2020, in Nyamuntende, company agents from Kiryandongo Sugar Limited accompanied by four Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers entered the property of land rights defender Richard David Otyaluk with a tractor belonging to the company and plowed through 4 acres of his maize field. When Richard David Otyaluk tried to stop the tractor from destroying the crops, the soldiers detained and beat him. When land rights defender James Olupoti tried to take photos of the perpetrators of the attack, he was beaten and detained as well. The soldiers reportedly shot live bullets near the defender’s leg and made death threats against him. The two land rights defenders were then taken to a compound housing UPDF soldiers and company workers, set up by Kiryandongo Sugar Limited in Ndoyo village. They were held there for seven hours before being transferred to Kiryandongo Police Station by the soldiers guarding the compound. The defenders remain in police custody without charges. As reported by their families, they have been severely beaten and are suffering from injuries as a result.

On 21 March 2020, in Kisalanda village, land rights defender William Katusiime was attacked and beaten by an Agilis Partners company agent and a guard from Saracen, a private security company hired by Agilis Partners. While patrolling the area, they physically and verbally abused the defender for refusing to leave his land. When he reported the incident to Kimogola Police Station, the police officers refused to open a case and referred him to Kiryandongo Police Station, saying that they had been ordered not to register complaints made against Agilis Partners.

On 22 March 2020, Sipiriano Baluma, a land rights defender from Jerusalem village, was arrested and detained at Kimogola Police Station when he was trying to lodge a complaint regarding the destruction of his crops. He was later transferred to Kiryandongo Police Station where he is currently detained without charges.

On 19 March 2020, Martin Haweka, another defender from Jerusalem village who has been pressured by Great Season Company Limited to leave his land, was arbitrarily arrested at Kimogola Police Station while trying to open a case regarding the destruction of his crops by Great Season Company Limited. He was charged with a minor offence and was presented before a court on 24 March. As he pleaded guilty to avoid a harsh punishment, he was sentenced to community service and released the same day.

Front Line Defenders remains extremely concerned by the continued targeting of land rights defenders in the Kiryandongo district for their peaceful work opposing forced evictions perpetrated by the companies Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, Agilis Partners and Great Season Company Limited. It urges the authorities in Uganda to immediately and unconditionally release the detained land rights defenders, provide them with appropriate medical attention, if necessary, and carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the physical abuse of Richard David Otyaluk and James Olupoti, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards. Front Line Defenders further calls on Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, Agilis Partners, Great Season Company Limited and the police and private security companies to cease the harassment of land rights defenders in Kiryandongo.

Source: Front-line Defenders

Defending Land And Environmental Rights

State fails to produce a key witness, prematurely closes its prosecution in the trial of the eight land rights defenders

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By the Witness Radio team,

The state prematurely closed its prosecution in the trial of the eight community land rights defenders after it failed to produce its last witness, the Investigating Officer (IO).

Mwawula Fred, Ramu Ndahimana, Samuel Kusiima, Martin Munyansia, Martin Haweka, Amos Wafula, Eliot Talemwa, and George Rwakabisha are facing a charge of threatening violence, which attracts a four-year sentence upon conviction.

Upon closure of the prosecution, the defense lawyers applied for the dismissal of the case for want of prosecution, adding the evidence before the court too weak to sustain a conviction

The court has directed the defense to file its written submission and serve the prosecution by 10th February 2022.

Since 2020, the prosecution has only presented two witnesses, which resulted in the trial being marred with unnecessary adjournments and transfers of trial magistrates.

The prosecution alleges that on September 4th, 2020, the eight community rights defenders, while at Kisalanda village, allegedly threatened to harm one of the police officers guarding Great Season SMC Limited’s plantation.

Great seasons SMC Limited is one of the multinationals that have forcefully evicted thousands of local farmers and criminalized activities of community land rights defenders for resisting illegal and forceful evictions of poor communities in the Kiryandongo district. The others include Kiryandongo Sugar Company and Agilis Partners Limited.

The court will rule on the application to dismiss the case on the 20th of March 2022

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Mubende police arrest and charge farmers that workers of a tree-planting company attacked.

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By Witness Radio team

Five smallholder farmers have been arrested and charged with malicious damage by Mubende police, Witness Radio Uganda has learned.

The victim farmers include; Kabuka Levi, Lubwama Robert, Bulegeya Erisa, Byakatonda David, and Byamukama Yuda are among the victims of the company attacks. Upon arrest, they (victims) recorded statements and later were released on police bond.

Before their arrest, the farmers had opened several cases against their tormentors (company workers) for attacking and destroying their properties worth millions of Shillings. Several files were opened including SD.ref/09/07/12/2022 and SD.ref/12/07/12/2022 against company workers. However, to their surprise, the police made a U-turn and got them arrested.

On December 7th, 2022, in the wee hours of that day, a group of over 20 casual workers linked to Formosa limited, a tree planting company based in Mubende district attacked several families, properties like houses and food crop plantations were destroyed, and several farmers were severely beaten with intentions of forcing them off their land.

“When we reached Mubende police, we were all arrested and interrogated for almost an hour before recording statements on malicious damage charges. The company reported that we cut its trees and had photos as evidence which we did not do.” Mr. Kabuka Levi told Witness Radio in an interview.

In the meantime, the same company in 2017 caused the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of 5 community land rights defenders for 15 years and 35 years on murder and other charges. The five include; Paul Sinamenya, Richard Ssemombwe, Fenehansi Kaberuka, Esau Hategeka, Godfrey Bukenya, Yonnah Ssebanenya, and Sserugo Sam Ssemigo.

Witness Radio appealed against the conviction of 5 defenders for review and is waiting on the appellant court to set the hearing date of the case.

Since 2011, Formasa company under the protection of private security guards and the police has grabbed 2590 hectares that were a source of livelihood for hundreds of poor communities.

The land grabbing has affected over ten (10) villages including Butoro, Kyedikyo, Nakasozi, Namayindi, Kitebe, Kisiigwa, Mukiguluka, Busaabala, and Kicucuulo located both in Maduddu and Butoloogo sub-counties in Mubende district.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Community land rights defenders that have been on trial since 2020; are set to return to court this January.

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By Witness Radio Team.

The criminal trial of eight (8) Community land rights defenders on charges of threatening violence is to resume on the 23rd of January 2022, with the state producing its final witness.

The defense lawyers are preparing a submission of no case to answer upon closure of the prosecution’s case because of the insufficiency of the case.

So far, the prosecution has presented two witnesses before the court since 2020, whose trial sessions have been marred with unnecessary adjournments and transfers of hearing magistrates.

The eight community land rights defenders include; Mwawula Fred, Ramu Ndahimana, Samuel Kusiima, Martin Munyansia, Martin Haweka, Amos Wafula, Eliot Talemwa, and George Rwakabisha were charged with threatening violence, a charge that attracts a four-year sentence upon conviction.

The prosecution alleges that on September 4th, 2020, the eight and others, while at Kisalanda village, allegedly threatened to harm one of the police officers guarding Great Season SMC Limited’s plantation.

In November 2020, the prosecution disclosed to defense lawyers and informed the court that investigations were closed and the prosecutor’s chambers were ready to proceed to trial.

Great seasons SMC Limited is one of the multinationals that have forcefully evicted thousands of local people and later criminalized activities of smallholder farmers that have resisted illegal evictions in the Kiryandongo district. The others include Kiryandongo Sugar Company and Agilis Partners Limited.

The trial will start at 10 am East African Time.

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