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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Three land rights defenders detained over criminal trespass charges.

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By witnessradio.org Team

 

Kiryandongo – Uganda – after seven days of illegal detention at Kiryandongo police station, the three land rights defenders have now been charged with trespassing on land which they have lawfully occupied and cultivated since 1937. They were arrested on Wednesday, February 12th, 2020 in a violent operation carried out by the Kiryandongo police, a local businessman Mwesigye Reuben and Great Season Company workers.

 

Ssebisolo Godfrey, Wanjala Erias and Mwawula Fred were picked from their homes and have not recorded statements or being produced before court despite several calls for their unconditional release from police by witnessradio.org.

 

“We’re being intimidated, harassed, and forced by Kiryandongo police headed by (Assistant Superintendent of Police) ASP Bakaleke Joseph and agents of companies to sign documents that show acceptance to vacate the land if we want to get our freedom and be reunited with our families” said the land defenders while meeting their lawyers from the police cells.

 

Article 23(4) of the 1995 Constitution as amended states that; “A person arrested or detained for the purpose of bringing him or her before a court in execution of an order of a court; or upon reasonable suspicion of his or her having committed or being about to commit a criminal offence under the laws of Uganda, shall, if not earlier released, be brought to court as soon as possible but in any case not later than forty-eight hours from the time of his or her arrest.”

 

The trio are members of a community of more than 30,000 native families whose land is measuring about 9500 acres being targeted by 3 large scale international companies – Agilis Partners/Joseph Initiative/Asili Farm; Great Season Company limited; Kiryandongo Sugar Limited.

 

The land is situated at Kisalanda village, Kakwoko – Mutunda parish, Kibanda County, Kiryandongo district. It’s registered on Block 7, Plot 66, 67, and 68 among others.

 

Companies and security agencies are orchestrating intimidation and violence that has caused several families to flee from their homes for fear of reprisals. Others like the 11-year old Ssewankambo Ponsiano will never walk again or have an education because of the live ammunition that was used against them, according to medical reports, the gun shot caused a permanent disability to Sse-wankambo and has since dropped out school. Pupils of Kabyanga Primary School were tear-gassed while in their class-rooms. This incident occurred at Kisalanda village, Kimogola Local council One (1).

 

More than 14 primary schools have been demolished plus more than two dozens of worshiping centers, while unknown number of water sources were ring fenced to the company workers.

 

In the meantime, witnessradio.org has filed a mandatory release application before Kiryandongo district Grade one (1) magistrate. The hearing date is yet to be confirmed.

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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