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Friday, September 29, 2023

Coalition seeks release of arrested StopEACOP campaigners

The StopEACOP Coalition is seeking the immediate release of students arrested by the Ugandan police on Tuesday, October 4, 2022. The students were reportedly heading towards the European Union offices to protest against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project (EACOP), a project led by French energy giant, TotalEnergies.

StopEACOP protesters in Uganda

StopEACOP is a global campaign against the construction of the EACOP project, a proposed 1,445-kilometre heated pipeline that will transport oil from Hoima, Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania.

Observers have described the arrest as unjustified, saying that “it was a peaceful demonstration of young people protesting against the implementation of a fossil fuel project with intense environmental, social, and human rights impacts in their country”.

They added that the project is causing the eviction of nearly 118,000 people and threatens many protected areas and reserves. It is facing several legal proceedings, in Uganda, France, and at the East African Court of Justice.

The EACOP oil mega-project was strongly condemned on September 15 by the European parliament in a Joint motion for a resolution on violations of human rights in Uganda and Tanzania linked to investments in fossil fuels projects.

Earlier last week, another group of Ugandan students supporting the project protested against the European Union’s (EU) resolution on Uganda’s oil project. This demonstration was not pressured by the local police.

Omar Elmawi, the Coordinator of the StopEACOP Coalition, stated: “it is sad that in this time and age innocent citizens of a country are arrested for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right of expression on the East African Crude Oil Pipeline and the harms it will cause to People, Nature and Climate.

“This is a blatant disregard of their rights and freedoms as citizens of Uganda and contributes to the continued violations of human rights against those that have opposed this exploitative project. The Ugandan government needs to protect its citizens rights first and not the interests of corporate greed.”

The affected students are mainly student leaders from Makerere, Kyambogo, and Makerere University Business School-MUBS. They took to the streets on Tuesday dressed in their university gowns armed with placards and banners calling on the government to halt the oil pipeline project.

Police intercepted the protesters around Kingdom Kampala Building on their way to the EU offices at Crested Towers where they expected to hand over a petition compelling the government to halt the EACOP project. In their petition, the protesters demand that the EACOP project is stopped until certain safeguards are implemented by the government to stop human rights violations.

John Solomon Nabuyanda, one of the protesters, said the East African crude oil extraction contract that was signed between the Ugandan government and the oil company is marred with irregularities, the reason why it is hidden from the public.  

“There is no member of parliament or minister with a full understanding of what is in that agreement. There is public anxiety about this project. We want to know how many people have been compensated or displaced from their land, and the safety of Ugandans who will be working there. But you can’t get that information,” Nabuyanda said. 

Other protesters said Uganda National Student’s Association leaders couldn’t convince them in the recent protests, because they were also used as puppets to mobilise students in a protest supporting the project.

Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango, says that the organisers of the protest didn’t have authorisation since they didn’t get police clearance. He says that the nine protesters have been charged with inciting violence and illegal assembly.

Onyango explains that four out of the nine suspects in custody were hired by the students to participate in the demonstration. The arrest of the protesters comes a few days after a group of students from various schools marched around Kampala and Hoima streets accompanied by brass bands and the police protesting against the resolution by the European Parliament on the oil pipeline project.

In its resolution, the European Parliament said the construction of the East African Crude Oil pipeline –EACOP will increase human rights violations and environmental destruction in the areas it is set to pass. The resolution continues to elicit mixed reactions from the public with some in favor and against the project.

However, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has since assured Ugandans that nothing would halt work at EACOP.

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