On May 30th the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda (NCHRDU) embarked on a fact finding mission in Kabarole District where four Human Rights Defenders Jackson Magezi, Prosper Businge, Fred Kyaligonza and Trader Suleiman were reported as being harassed.
In April 2016, these Human Rights Defenders were charged with use of poison, explosive and electrical devices contrary to section 7 (1), 28&22 of the Fish Act Cap 197.
However, it was surprising to note that only one of the four accused, Trader Suleiman, had actually been carrying out fishing on crater lakes in Kabarole district.
The charges emanate from the HRDs’ legal efforts to challenge an engineering company’s acquisition of 20 crater lakes and eviction of communities in Kabarole.
The HRDs work in close collaboration with the NCHRDU western regional focal person Gerald Kankya of Twerwaneho Listeners Club, a non-government organization that sensitizes local communities on their human rights in Fort Portal.
The HRDs told the visiting NCHRDU team that since taking up the noble cause of standing up for the rights of the communities, the HRDs have consistently been harassed through threatening warnings as an attempt to scare them from doing their human rights work.
Trader Suleiman, one of the HRDs told the NCHRDU team that he has individually received several threatening messages and calls from strangers using anonymous telephone numbers.
Suleiman says that security agencies in Fort Portal have also threatened the human rights defenders with more arrests and extended intimidation to their family members.
“I have received phone calls that do not reveal the identity of the callers. I don’t know whether the calls are from one person but they have always told me to go slow on the crater lakes warning that we are tampering with powerful people in government,” said Suleiman.
HRDs also revealed to the NCHRDU team that they receive threats of being harmed and kidnapped through their neighbors who are told to warn them of the grievous consequences should the HRDs not put a stop to talking against the activities of the said company.
Suleiman and other HRDs however say they will continue fighting for the rights of community members since they feel encouraged by the legal support from NCHRDU.
“I thank the NCHRDU for the support it has accorded us and I am ready to continue doing my work to ensure that communities’ rights are not taken away,” said Suleiman.
Another HRD, Prosper Businge said that he has eluded several attempts to be arrested by the police, with the oppressors sometimes using people close to him to harass him.
Businge who operates a retail business on Ruhandika Street in Fort Portal town told the NCHRDU team that he risks losing his rented house as a result of his continued advocacy work.
“The perpetrators are using my landlord to intimidate me, he has already told me that if I continue speaking out against the company, I will have to leave his house,” Businge said.
The coalition which has facilitated lawyers to represent Businge and his colleagues an ongoing case against the company however encouraged Businge to continue with his advocacy work promising to provide him with three months’ rent to shift to another location should the landlord continue harassing him.
Gerald Kankya together with selected HRDs guided the coalition team to Lake Saaka which is one of the 20 craters in contention.
At the lake, we discovered that locals can no longer engage in activities such as fishing, swimming or fetching water for domestic use because of the many security operatives deployed there.
“Some community members have been beaten, shot at while fishing or drawing water from the lake,” one of the residents told the NCHRDU team.
The NCHRDU also visited and had engagements with the Uganda Human Rights Commission officials at their Fort Portal offices to better understand the situation of HRDs there.