The Police in Hoima have released on bond eight people including journalists and activists who had been arrested over the Save Bugoma Forest campaign.
On Tuesday, journalists cum activists Joshua Mutale and Venex Watebawa from the Water and Environment Media Network Uganda(WEMNET) were arrested from the Hoima District Police Commander’s office.
“Before leaving Kampala to go for a fact-finding mission in Bugoma, we sought permission from the DPC who asked us to find him at office. When we reached office, we informed him of our presence and requested for security as we toured the forest. The next thing we saw was several police officers arresting and detaining us,”Mutale says.
The duo says they were not informed of the offences they had committed and it was during their release that they were told they faced charges of inciting violence to cause unlawful demonstration.
“It is unfortunate that the police are arresting journalists who are exposing and advocating to save Bugoma Forest instead of arresting those behind the cutting down of the natural resource. Graders are busy razing down the forest under the guard of police,” Venex Watebawa said.
Other journalists arrested
On Wednesday, a day after the duo’s arrest, Police again swung into action and arrested other journalists including Ismail Kasoha of New Vision, Vincent Kisiriko of Radio one, Jackson Kasule of BBS TV and Sam kayiwa.
These were charged with criminal tress pass for allegedly taking photos of their colleagues in detention without permission.
The group was however released on Thursday.
Speaking about the release of his colleagues, the Human Rights Network for Journalists National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala took a swipe at police over what he termed as frivolous charges.
“We are happy that all of our colleagues have been released, but sad about the frivolous charges brought against them. The police should drop these charges unconditionally. We also urge journalists to remain steady focused on issues of the environment and others of accountability,”Ssempala noted.
Several conservation activists have for a number of months protested against the razing down of Bugoma Central forest reserve to grow sugarcanes.
National Environment Authority recently cleared Hoima Sugar Limited to use part of the forest reserve for sugarcane growing.
The clearance is contained in a certificate of approval for the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report issued by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) that authorises Hoima Sugar limited to undertake the said development.
Recently, NEMA was dragged to court for giving away the forest reserve for sugarcane growing.