Detained Uganda anti-pipeline activist released

Environmental Governance Institute says Stephen Kwikiriza in ‘poor condition’ after ‘severe beatings’ in detention.

Ugandan activists march in support of the European Parliament resolution to stop the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, on environmental basis, near the European Union offices in Kampala,
Ugandan activists march in Kampala, Uganda, in support of a European Parliament resolution to stop the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline on environmental grounds [File: Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters]

An activist with an environmental group campaigning to block a $5bn internationally financed oil pipeline running through Uganda has been released from detention, his employer says.

The Environmental Governance Institute (EGI) said in a statement on Monday that the activist was found abandoned on the side of a road in Kyenjoyo and is now safe.

“Unfortunately, he is in poor condition after enduring severe beatings, mistreatment, and abuse throughout the week. Doctors are conducting various examinations.”

EGI is campaigning to stop the construction of the 1,445km (900-mile) East African Crude Oil Pipeline, which is to carry oil from oilfields in western Uganda to a port on Tanzania’s coast.

EGI said the Ugandan military had detained Kwikiriza on Tuesday.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said he was apparently taken by Ugandan army officers in civilian clothing, describing it as a “particularly worrying escalation of repression”.

A senior military officer on Monday confirmed Kwikiriza’s detention to the Agence France-Presse news agency.

“He was taken into custody for questioning regarding his illegal activities, including mobilising fellow activists to oppose the oil pipeline,” the officer told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that he was released after interrogation.

“I have not been made aware of him being beaten during interrogation. It’s a matter that can be investigated and verified.”

FIDH said 11 environmental activists “were kidnapped, arbitrarily arrested, detained or subjected to different forms of harassment by the Ugandan authorities between May 27 and June 5, 2024”.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) had also voiced concern about Kwikiriza’s disappearance.

“The Ugandan government needs to end its harassment of opponents of oil development in the country, such as the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project, which has already devastated thousands of people’s livelihoods in Uganda and, if completed, will displace thousands of people and contribute to the global climate crisis,” Myrto Tilianaki, senior environmental rights advocate at HRW, said in a statement.

French energy giant TotalEnergies owns the majority of the stake in the pipeline with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments holding minority stakes.

“TotalEnergies E&P Uganda does not tolerate any threat or attack against those who peacefully defend and promote human rights,” TotalEnergies said in a statement to the Reuters news agency on Monday.

The company has rejected the allegation by activists and international organisations that the pipeline will displace tens of thousands of people and destroy fragile ecosystems.

The European Parliament expressed its opposition to the pipeline in a resolution adopted in September 2022.

Source: News Agencies