“The arrests of these activists are a clear attempt to silence dissent and suppress opposition to the EACOP,” said one organizer.
Climate campaigners around the world on Wednesday urged Ugandan authorities to drop charges against four climate activists arrested and jailed overnight after peacefully protesting a highly controversial oil pipeline under construction in the region.
Bob Barigye, Mutesi Zarika, Naruwada Shamim, and Nalusiba Phionah were violently arrested Tuesday in the capital Kampala for protesting the environmental and social impacts of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). The activists—who were later released on bond—were charged with inciting violence.
However, the #StopEACOP coalition—which said the protesters were “unjustly” arrested and jailed—argued that photos and videos from the demonstration show that it was peaceful.
“The arrests of these activists are a clear attempt to silence dissent and suppress opposition to the EACOP,” the coalition’s campaign coordinator, Zaki Mamdoo, said in a statement. “We call upon the international community and civil society organizations to join us in condemning these arrests and demanding justice for those detained.”
Samuel Okulony, director of the Environment Governance Institute, said that “it is not a crime to voice opposition to the controversial EACOP project or to advocate for the government and project proponents to explore alternative, sustainable solutions.”
“Peaceful protest and dialogue are fundamental pillars of a democratic society, and these rights must be protected and upheld,” Okulony added.
Charity Migwi, the African regional campaigner for U.S.-based 350.org, condemned the arrests “in the strongest terms possible.”
“These activists were exercising their democratic right to peacefully protest against a project that they believe will have devastating consequences for the environment and the people of Uganda and beyond,” she said, urging the Ugandan government to “drop all charges against them.”
This isn’t the first time anti-EACOP activists have been arrested for peacefully protesting the pipeline. Last October, nine student leaders were arrested by police and subsequently charged with inciting violence for holding a Kampala demonstration in support of a European Parliament resolution condemning the project’s human rights and environmental violations. Four more anti-EACOP activists were arrested last December.
Barigye, a 34-year-old biology teacher and climate activist, was arrested in January for anti-EACOP organizing despite having police permission to protest. Barigye toldAfrican Arguments earlier this year that he was held for four days, during which time he was “psychologically tortured” by police.
“They threatened my life and family,” he said. “They dragged me into a filthy cell, made me starve… I could not sleep as they would interrogate me at any time of the night.”
“We are looked at us the enemies of the state,” Barigye said of the anti-EACOP activists. “The police now prefer psychological torture because physical torture will create bad publicity around the oil pipeline project, which could push away investors and insurers… The government doesn’t want to be in the international spotlight for the wrong reasons.”
If completed, the $3.5 billion, nearly 900-mile EACOP would transport up to 230,000 barrels of crude oil per day from fields in the Lake Albert region of western Uganda to the Tanzanian port city of Tanga on the Indian Ocean.
Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch published a report detailing how EACOP has devastated the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in its path while exacerbating the climate emergency.