Two Journalists Arrested over Campaign to Save Bugoma Forest

Two environmental journalists spent Tuesday night in the cells at Hoima Central Police station in connection to a peaceful protest against the leasing of Bugoma forest reserve to Hoima Sugar Ltd by Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom for sugarcane growing.

They are Joshua Mutale and Vennex Watebawa, both members of the Water and Environment Media Network-WEMNET.  

The duo was detained at around 8 p.m. on Tuesday night shortly after arriving in Hoima city ahead of a peaceful demonstration against the destruction of Bugoma forest reserve in Kyangwali and Kabwoya Sub counties in Kikuube district.   

According to sources, the two were detained after Hoima District Police Commander invited them for a meeting at the police station.

Julius Hakiza, the Albertine Region Police spokesperson, says the two journalists were detained after intelligence information indicated that they are the masterminds of the save Bugoma demonstration campaign. 

The demonstration was expected to kick off this morning from Hoima City and stop in Bugoma central forest reserve in Kikuube district.

Recently, environmentalists under the “Save Bugoma Forest Reserve Campaign” made announcements on local stations inviting people in Bunyoro sub-region to join them in a peaceful demonstration to oppose the allocation of Bugoma forest to Hoima sugar limited for sugar cane growing.  

They want the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to revoke the license issued to Hoima sugar limited to utilise 21 out of the 22 square miles of the forest for cane growing.

Hoima Sugar Ltd leased Bugoma forest land from the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom for cane growing at Shs 3 billion. 

Hakiza said that the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Martin Okoth-Ochola issued a directive last week stopping the demonstration by the environmentalists until further notice on grounds that it would attract thousands of people in breach of the Covid-19 preventive guidelines.

According to Hakiza, the journalists will be charged with conspiracy to stage an unlawful Assembly. 

However, the journalists hadn’t recorded any statement by the time of publishing this story.

This morning, journalists under Bunyoro Journalists Association stormed Hoima Central police station to demand the unconditional release of their colleagues.

Ismail Kasooha, a journalist from Vision group wonders why the journalists haven’t been allowed to record a statement despite spending a night in the police cells.

National Forestry Authority (NFA) which is the chief custodian of all natural forests in the country, is opposed to the project.

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