At least eleven Ugandan climate activists who were reportedly beaten and held in a notorious maximum security prison are expected to appear in court on Wednesday charged with a colonial era anti-dissident offense.
This is as reprisals continue against opponents of an internationally bankrolled oil pipeline.
If convicted, the activists, who are all university students, will face up to a year in jail. Four of them – Nicholas Lutabi, Jacob Lubega, Shafik Kalyango and Abdul Aziz Bwete – were allegedly arrested and beaten by police armed with guns, teargas and batons as they marched peacefully towards parliament in the capital city, Kampala, on 15 December.
Available reports suggest that they were targeted after becoming separated from a larger protest calling on the Uganda government to stop construction of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (Eacop), a $5bn fossil-fuel project backed by the French conglomerate TotalEnergies and a Chinese national oil company, as well as the governments of Uganda and Tanzania.
The climate activists said that they were forced into an unmarked building within the parliament entrance, where the police officers repeatedly kicked, punched and beat them with heavy objects. It is the same place and same abusive treatment reported by at least two dozen anti-pipeline activists over the past two years.
Kalyango, 25, became unconscious after being hit on the back of the neck, and woke up in a locked room 10 or 15 minutes later, according to his colleagues.
“I am weak and have pain in my neck and in the stomach when I eat. I’m still not OK,” Kalyango said in an interview more than a month after the arrest. “This was punishment for trying to stop the Total project that will cause so much harm in the future.”
If fully constructed, the Eacop will stretch 900 miles from western Uganda to the eastern coast of Tanzania, from where the oil will be exported to international buyers. The project will generate an estimated 379m tonnes of CO2 over its 25-year life span, more than the UK’s national emissions in 2022.
“The police were very angry, accusing us of inciting violence and trying to overthrow the government,” said Bwete, 26, who said he was kicked and punched in the ribs and chest. “It was brutal. The only crime we have committed is trying to educate the people about fossil fuels and climate change.”
Both Photos and video footage show the police officers restraining the students, who were holding placards and chanting, “We demand climate justice” and “Stop Eacop.” There is no evidence of violence at the protest until police arrived on the scene.
A spokesman for the Ugandan government said he knew nothing of the arrests and insisted it was a police matter. The police did not respond to a request for comment.
TotalEnergies did not respond either, but it has previously categorically denied any knowledge or involvement in the crackdown and intimidation of peaceful protesters or other pipeline opponents.
Story was adapted from the Guardian.