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Uganda: Attorney for jailed land rights defenders detained briefly at Kaweeri prison.

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Lawyer Eron Kiiza

By witnessradio.org Team

Mubende – Uganda: Eron Kiiza, the lead counsel, for the 28 jailed land rights defenders was on Thursday briefly detained at Kaweeri government Prison. The arrest stemmed from his lawful demand to have access to his imprisoned clients. The prisoners had been transferred from different prisons including Muyinayina and Katojo government prisons to Kaweeri Prison ahead of the criminal trial.

Before Kiiza’s detention, the accused’s’  battery of lawyers had beseeched Deborah Wanume, the deputy registrar of Mubende High Court to permit them to have access to their clients which was granted.  However, issues turned ugly when the lawyers later on the afternoon visited the prison.  They were turned away by prisons authorities and consequently advised to return another day.  The lawyers who were taken aback by the by this stance which was in clear violation of a court order weren’t cowed.  They made a second attempt to meet their clients and this time the prison officers came up with a different explanation; they claimed there is no fixed time for lawyers to see their clients and this did not go down well with Kiiza who was immediately arrested. Minutes later following protests from Kiiza’s fellow lawyers and other land rights defenders; the lawyer was not only released but also allowed to have an interface with the incarcerated land rights defenders.

Ever since Kiiza and his legal team got instructions to represent vulnerable communities he has received numerous threats. From within and without.   He recently appeared before Police’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for questioning following a complaint by Mubende High court Judge his Lordship Justice Joseph Murangira.  The judge was not pleased with Kiiza’s online campaign. Through various Facebook posts, Kizza asked Murangira to recuse himself from the case citing apparent bias and other ethical issues.  The first threat, paradoxically, came from the president of Uganda Law Society, Simon Peter Kinobe, a person who was expected to defend him. Mr. Kinobe ordered the indefatigable Kiiza to pull down his contentious Facebook posts but Kiiza responded with a big no.

The 28 whose case has been cause listed for the criminal session have been on remand since the fall of 2018. This year’s criminal session at the High Court of Uganda at Mubende shall be presided by his Lordship Justice Anthony Oyuku Ojok, the Resident Judge of High Court of Uganda at Arua. The 28 land rights defenders were framed, arrested and charged with nine (9) counts including murder and aggravated robbery after they defied an illegal and forceful eviction of over 3000 inhabitants off their ancestral land measuring 322.5 hectares. The eviction masterminded by one Kaweesi George and his agents who among others some police officers and casual labourers.

The land forcefully taken was hosting some of those families that were evicted by Kaweeri Coffee Plantation limited in the early 2000s. The 600 families are part of over 2000 families, relocated to that land allegedly grabbed by Kaweesi as compensation for what they had lost to Kaweeri Coffee Plantation limited owned Emmanuel Kayiwa  Bikko who has since passed on.

Like in many cases across the country including that of seven community land rights defenders that were sentenced to 34 years in prison in Mubende district, the use of the Penal Code Act in land-related matters is on the increase.  The land-grabbing elements have resorted to the use of the Penal Code to charge land defenders because the law is lethal.  It unleashes harsher prison sentences than any other

and also obtaining bail once charged under it is either legally hard or too expensive for the rural communities in Uganda   These persecutions are manifesting majorly in districts that host minerals including sub-regions of Karamoja, Bunyoro and Buganda.

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Two Witness Radio members, 26 others have been released on bail after spending close to 3 years in jail…

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By witnessradio.org Team

Mubende – Uganda – the High Court in Mubende has released two Witness Radio members and 26 others on bail after spending 28 months in prison. In late 2018, all the 28 were targeted and arrested because of their role in empowering the community to lawfully desist an illegal eviction, charged with 9 counts including murder and aggravated robbery, and remanded.

This was the second bail attempt after the 2019 bail for two Witness Radio members Grace Nantubiro and Ronald Mugwabya was rejected by the then Mubende High Court resident Judge Justice Joseph Murangira on pretty flimsy excuses.

Before the arrest of Grace Nantubiro and Ronald Mugwabya, the duo had used the media platforms local radio stations, and community meetings to call upon Mubende district authorities to intervene and stop an illegal and forceful eviction of 3500 inhabitants off five villages namely; Kambuye, Kikono, Kyabaana, Kanseera, and Lwensanga in East Division in Mubende municipality by one Kaweesi George.

Also in the line of fighting for the protection of the community’s land, Grace Nantubiro, Ronald Mugwabya, and some members of the press at one point were waylaid and kidnapped by laborers of the businessman. Mubende police rescued them but the perpetrators remained scot-free.

Due to public pressure, the situation was arrested by the then Mubende district police commander Martin Okoyo and other leaders, stopped the eviction, and ordered the withdraw of the businessman’s casual laborers from the community’s land until the land matter is resolved.

Shortly after the withdrawal, the laborers were secretly returned on the conflicted land in the wee hours in the following night and a fight ensued between businessman’s laborers and some locals. In a process, the life of one Yunusu Tabu was lost. Tabu was a manager of laborers.

The deadly scuffle introduced the criminalization of land rights defense and caused a random arrest that targeted Grace Nantubiro and Ronald Mugwabya because of their work. Some of the activists namely; Mugisha Focus, Ssekamana Kaloli, Mwikirize Keleti, Ssewanyana Kizza John, Tumwine Moses, Bigirwa Gilbert, Mulindwa Tadeo, Kayesu Patrick, Kyalimpa Tobias, Mugisha Stephen, Mwesigye John, Kiiza John Bosco, Byakatonda Aroon, Manirikiza Elidefunce, Tabalamule William, Kobwemi Christopher,  Kiwanuka Emmanuel, Senkula Charles, Ssemombwe George, Musinguzi Paul, Biryomumisho Fred, Maniriho Forodis,  Habimana Ernest, Byaruhanga Emmanuel, Mwesigye Julius, and Kezaala Saul were severely beaten and tortured by Mubende police during the arrest and as result, some still have visible scars all over their bodies.

The ill-planned arrest and conduct by Mubende police facilitated a land grab of more than 322.5 hectares, registered on Block 168; Plots 19, 22, and 23 in Mubende Municipality, Mubende district.

While appearing before Mubende High Court Judge Justice Isaac Muwata, all the 28 were released on a cash bail of 100,000 Uganda Shillings (one hundred thousand shillings) equivalent to about US dollars 28 while sureties were conditioned UGX 2 million not cash.

Other conditions, the 28 are required to report to the Mubende High Court registrar’s chambers every first Monday of the month.

 

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The World Bank project affected persons have petitioned the court seeking to halt an illegal eviction by capital authority

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By witnessradio.org Team

 

Kampala – Uganda – more than 300 families at Kawaala Zone II, Lubaga Division in Kampala district have today, the 11th January 2021 petitioned the court seeking to restrain the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) from illegally evicting them off their land, which they have lawfully occupied and cultivated for decades.

 

The affected families through Witness Radio lawyers accuse KCCA of hiding under the Public Health Act to issue a demolition notice targeting all properties on the land to give way for construction of a multi-billion drainage channel, which is funded by the World Bank. KCCA is established by an act of Parliament and it’s responsible for the management and administration of the capital city.

 

Specifically, KCCA is using section 72(1) cap 281 of the Public Health Act, to force them off their land without consultation, sensitization, property valuation, and compensation claiming that they (residents) illegally constructed their houses in a wetland.

 

The court action follows Witness Radio and the affected attempted to engage KCCA over the irrational decision however efforts to hear from them were futile.

 

In 2015, KCCA acquired USD 175 million loan from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) for Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP) project. However, part of the money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) was earmarked to construct Lubigi Primary Channel and it’s being used to dispossess poor urban communities without consultation, sensitization, and infringed communities’ right to know and access to information.

 

The 2.58 Kilometers project expected to end later this year, stretches from Bwaise roundabout to Hoima road, southwest of Kampala.

 

The eviction is taking place at the time when the government of Uganda halted all land evictions during the COVID 19 pandemic and the determination of KCCA to forcefully evict the urban poor raises many legal questions.

 

The victims want the court to issue an interim order and temporary injunction to restrain KCCA from implementing the decisions that are being challenged.

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Renewing demand for justice; the 28 land rights defenders have applied for bail

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By witnessradio.org Team

Mubende – Uganda – the defense lawyers of the 28 community land rights defenders have filed new applications for bail at Mubende High Court after spending 3 years in prison.

The 28 include two staff members of Witnessradio.org‘s Nantubiro Grace and Mugwabya Ronald.

Others are; Mugisha Focus, Ssekamana Kaloli, Mwikirize Keleti, Ssewanyana Kizza John, Tumwine Moses, Bigirwa Gilbert, Mulindwa Tadeo, Kayesu Patrick, Kyalimpa Tobias, Mugisha Stephen, Mwesigye John, Kiiza John Bosco, Byakatonda Aroon, Manirikiza Elidefunce, Tabalamule William, Kobwemi Christopher,  Kiwanuka Emmanuel, Senkula Charles, Ssemombwe George, Musinguzi Paul, Biryomumisho Fred, Maniriho Forodis,  Habimana Ernest, Byaruhanga Emmanuel, Mwesigye Julius and Kezaala Saul.

They are facing 9 counts including murder, and aggravated robbery among others.

The prosecution alleges that on October 12, 2018, the accused at Kambuye-Kanseera, Mubende district, killed and robbed Yunus Kasajja Tabu of his three mobile phones.

Late Tabu allegedly died during a fight with land grab affected community whose assailants are still unknown. Tabu was a manager of local businessman one Kaweesi George, under the protection of police grabbed 322.5 hectares and violently evicted over 3500 lawful occupants on Block 168; Plot 19, 22 and 23 covering five villages namely; Kambuye, Kikono, Kyabaana, Kanseera and Lwensanga in East Division, Mubende Municipality, Mubende district. The land is adjacent to Kaweeri Coffee Plantation is covering on.

However, police carried out a random arrest and targeted land rights defenders and activists that were mobilizing and empowering the landgrab affected community to resist an illegal and forceful eviction.

In January 2019, the attempt to get bail for witnessradio.org‘s Nantubiro Grace and Mugwabya Ronald was denied High Court in Mubende’s justice Joseph Mulangira.

According to officials at Mubende High Court, bail applications will be heard this afternoon.

 

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