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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Six environmental campaigners arrested in Uganda

The Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) has said that six members of its staff were arrested on Friday, October 22, 2021. The staff are currently detained at Kiira Police Station in Uganda.

East Africa crude oil pipeline
AFIEGO has been vocal in advocating for the rights of communities affected by the controversial East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP)

The arrested staff include: Mr. Dickens Kamugisha, CEO; Ms. Rachael Amongin, Assistant Communications Officer; Ms. Catherine Twongyeirwe, Finance and Adminstration Assistant; Ms. Mercy Nuwamanya, Front desk officer; Mr. Patrick Edema, Research Associate; and Mr. Paul Kato, Research Associate.

Of the arrested staff, one is said to be a new breastfeeding mom while another is sick and was on treatment before she was re-arrested.

According to AFIEGO, police is yet to indicate the charges on which the staff were arrested or re-arrested.

On Wednesday October 13, 2021, police reportedly raided AFIEGO’s Kampala office and arrested some staff, including two breastfeeding mothers.

The staff were released on police bond on October 13 and Thursday, October 14, 2021. A holding charge of operating without a permit was preferred against them. Police informed the staff that the National Bureau for Non-governmental organisations (NGO Bureau) had ordered for the arrest of AFIEGO staff.

AFIEGO says its staff do not constitute the non-profit company, a legal entity of its own that can sue and be sued. To be arrested for operating without a permit was therefore irregular.

The group stated that police is yet to arraign the AFIEGO staff who were arrested on October 13 before court, adding that the charge against these staff cannot stand in court.

The arrests follow an August 20, 2021 directive in which the NGO Bureau ordered AFIEGO and 53 other NGOs or non-profit companies to halt their work. The order was not based on the law and AFIEGO, through its lawyers, wrote to the NGO Bureau stating thus. AFIEGO also complained about the October 13, 2021 illegal arrest of its staff, noting that working with a non-profit company is not an offence.

The organisation believes that the arrest is a coordinated effort to silence critical voices that speak out against the destruction of the environment and the abuse of oil project-affected communities’ rights.

AFIEGO is said to be the leader of the Save Bugoma Forest Campaign (SBFC) and alongside its partners, AFIEGO has been vocal in advocating for the protection of Bugoma forest from land grabbing, oil and sugarcane challenges.

AFIEGO has also been vocal in advocating for the rights of communities affected by the Tilenga, East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and oil refinery projects.

The arrest of the AFIEGO staff and their partners is aimed at silencing the organisation and other critical voices, adds the group.

It adds in a statement: “AFIEGO informs all its stakeholders that everything is being done to ensure the release of our staff and partners. AFIEGO is unequivocally calling on police to release its six staff. The NGO Bureau should also desist from giving unlawful orders for the arrest of AFIEGO staff.

“AFIEGO will continue processes to ensure that security and government officials who unlawfully arrest and detain AFIEGO staff are brought before courts of law for justice. AFIEGO also remains committed to defending community rights and the environment.”

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