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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Over 30 defenders, community leaders have been illegally arrested ever since Kiryandongo land grab started in 2017.

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Seven lawyers for communities were arrested and detained at Kiryandongo police station alongside community members that were being interviewed during the time of arrest. 

By witnessradio.org Team

 

Kiryandongo – Uganda – over 30 defenders and community leaders have been arrested, intimidated, detained and made to report on police bonds since 2017 to date, a price being paid by a poor and vulnerable community to make way for three agribusiness investments, witnessradio.org can reveal.

 

The revelation follows a report on Kiryandongo eviction, which pinned the three multinationals namely, Kiryandongo Sugar Limited owned by a Mauritius-based RAI family, Great Season SMC Limited, owned by a Sudanese businessman based in Dubai and Agilis Partners Limited owned by US businessmen and backed by several foreign development agencies and “social impact” investors, for grabbing poor communities’ land on gun point.
The multinationals are being backed by Uganda Police Force, Soldiers from Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and Private security firms including Saracen security group to grab about 10,000 Ha being cultivated and lawfully occupied by 35000 people.

 

The Kiryandongo case is among the many cases of land grab in Uganda, in which local communities have lost livelihoods and efforts to defend their land rights have been criminalized using the Penal Code. Criminal charges against communities are viewed as one of the tools to silence their voices or weaken their struggle for land access or use.

 

According to police bonds reviewed by witnessradio.org, criminal trespass, inciting violence, aggravated robbery, malicious damage to property, arson and assault are among the commonest charges being used by police against defenders, and community leaders.

 

The analysis further indicates that Agilis Partners Limited has 20 cases, which is the highest number of victimized land rights defenders and community leaders, Kiryandongo Sugar Limited with 8 cases and Great Season SMC limited with 6 cases.

 

One of the outrageous cases documented by witnessradio.org involves Agilis Partners Limited’s evictee, Linos Okyepe, a resident of Tecwa, village, Kitwala parish, Kiryandongo sub county, Kiryandongo district. He was arrested in December, 2017, illegally detained at Kiryandongo Police for 10 days without being taken to court, he bought his freedom by paying Kiryandongo police UGX 300,000 equivalent to USD 84.

 

According to testimonies, upon Okyepe’s release from Kiryandongo police cells, he was re-arrested and taken to unknown destination where he was subjected to torture on fabricated charges of possessing a fire arm.

 

“Okyepe was kept incommunicado (Artillery division barracks in Masindi district) for one year before he was freed by a visiting Court Martial judge due to lack of exhibits to pin him” Confirms Okyepe’s fellow inmate.

 

*********TESTIMONIES TO BE CONTINUED********

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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