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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

…….Special Report; abridged testimony……. ABDUCTION AND TORTURE: New methods used by multinationals and security agencies to grab land from the poor communities…

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Baluma (wearing a coat) and some of his family members.

….Special Report; abridged testimony…….

ABDUCTION AND TORTURE: New methods used by multinationals and security agencies to grab land from the poor communities

By witnessradio.org Team

Sipiriano Baluma, 60 is among the 35000 residents who have lawfully occupied and cultivated their land since the 1930s. But, the right to own land was brought to an end in early 2019, when residents woke up to the news of a local land broker Mwesigwa Reuben claiming that he owns their land. Just in a week news spread like wildfire that the land ownership had changed to Great Season SMC Limited, a company solely owned by a Sudan investor currently based in UAE, Dubai.

Immediately, residents witnessed the deployment of casual laborers from Darfur, Sudan, armed with bows and arrows to carry out forced evictions under the protection of Kiryandongo district police.

Without any meaningful consultation or compensation, the company, its agents, and security agencies in Kiryandongo district resorted to using violence targeting family heads and leaders of the project affected persons that were standing up for their rights. Acts of violence ranged from kidnaps, torture, beating, cutting down people’s crops to demolishing of houses, among others.

Baluma, a father of twelve (12) children, a resident of Kisalanda- Jerusalem, Kitwala Sub County in Kiryandongo district got kidnapped, and while in captivity, the company grabbed his 20 acres, which had houses, plantations of maize, banana, sweet potatoes, and cassava.

Baluma said, his land was life to him as he would earn Uganda Shillings close to one and half a million (1.5M) equivalent to about USD 500 every season before Great Seasons SMC Limited grabbed it.

He added that such an income would meet basic needs for his family including paying school fees.

Baluma shares his ordeal on how he lost his land: “I was at my home at 8:00 am local time on 18th, March 2021, when armed anti-riot police and company workers armed with bows and arrows traveling on two police patrols raided my home. I was kidnapped and taken to Kiryandongo district central police. This incident was witnessed by my family members (my wife and children)” Said Baluma.

He said while in captivity, one of the workers of the company questioned him about why he was cultivating on the land owned by the company and accused him of refusing to surrender his land.

According to his wife, Njeze Donati, in an hour’s time after Baluma’s abduction, the company’s workers returned with a tractor, plowed their land up-to the doorstep, and planted maize.  As a result, their house now stands in the middle of the company’s plantation, inaccessible and isolated from the rest of the world.

“The armed workers under the protection of Kiryandongo police put us on the gunpoint ordered us to enter and to lock ourselves in the house, which moment was used to grab our family land,” Said Donati.

She added that they were able to identify a police officer who oversaw the land grab exercise as Abura Felix attached to the Kiryandongo police

Baluma spent six (6) days in police cells without a charge and after the intervention of Witness Radio – Uganda lawyers, he was granted police bond.

On the police bond paper, Kiryandongo district police preferred a charge of criminal trespass on his own land.

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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