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Arrest of environmental rights defenders - Save Bugoma Forest Campaign

September 2020 - Nine HRDs, civil society activists and freelance journalists arrested for their legitimate work to preserve the Bugoma Forest.

Environmental rights defenders part of the Save Bugoma Forest Campaign (SBC) were arrested by police in Hoima district. They travelled to Hoima to participate in a peaceful demonstration aimed at stopping the destruction of Bugoma forest for sugarcane cultivation and to stop the risk of oil activities to critical biodiversity resources. Two defenders are alleged to have been arrested on their way to a radio talk show at Spice FM in Hoima to discuss the risks and dangers of destroying Bugoma forest for sugarcane growing and allowing oil activities in critical biodiversity areas including rivers, lakes, national parks, forests, wetlands and others.

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The talkshow also aimed at providing information on the planned peaceful protests where the civil society leaders were supposed to walk from Hoima and Kikuube districts to Bugoma forest reserve to address a press conference. The planned protest in Hoima was aimed at expressing displeasure with government agencies who were alleged to be conniving to give away Bugoma forest for sugarcane growing. The same protest also exposed how the rush for oil exploitation has attracted dubious companies who are cooperating with the government to conduct illegal and irregular Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA), issue ESIA certificates of approval, proceed with illegal activities in forests, national parks, rivers, lakes, wetlands and others without complete and approved mitigation plans.

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The two defenders who were arrested while on their way to the radio talk show were joined by seven other SBC members and partners. The seven were arrested at Hoima police station while they tried to negotiate for the release of their other two who spent the night in the police cells. The people arrests included: Sandra Atusinguza- AFIEGO, Venex Watebawa- WEMNET/Journalist; Joshua Mutale- Freelence journalist; Sam Kayiwa- Human Rights for Journalists Uganda; (v) Vincent Sekitto – Save Bugoma Campaign; Ismail Kashokwa – Save Bugoma Campaign; Joseph Mujuni – Oil Refinery Residents Association; Moses Mukiibi – Oil Refinery Residents Association; John Kibego- Save Bugoma Forest Campaign;

The actions of the security forces that arrested the defenders were in breach of the Constitution, National Environment Act of 2019 and other laws that protect Ugandans who defend rights to a clean and health environment and exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

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