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8 Tanzanian environmental defenders convicted

Status: 
Released
About the situation

On 12 April 2017, Mzuzu magistrate court (Malawi) released eight Tanzanian environmental defenders after handing them down suspended sentences. Each of the environmental defenders were found guilty and sentenced to one month for “criminal trespassing” and three months for “conducting reconnaissance without permission”. They have been detained since 20 December 2016.
 

About Tanzanian Uranium Awareness Mission

tanzanian_8.jpegThe eight environmental defenders, namely Briton Mateus Mgaya, Wakisa Elias Mwansangu, Majidi Nkota, Christandusi Ngowi, Ashura Kyula, Martin Guido Ndunguru, Wilbert Mahundi and Rainery Komba are all from Songea, Tanzania, and are affiliated with various civil society groups, some of which initiated a small consortium called Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission (TUAM). TUAM is a platform for knowledge exchange and information sharing on the socio-economic and environmental impacts related to mining and extractives. They have emphasised cross-learning on democratic ownership and transparency in the mining sector, and some had even taken part in similar visits to countries other than Malawi.

14 April 2017
8 Environmental Defenders Released

On 12 April 2017, Mzuzu magistrate court (Malawi) released eight Tanzanian environmental defenders after handing them down suspended sentences. Each of the environmental defenders were found guilty and sentenced to one month for “criminal trespassing” and three months for “conducting reconnaissance without permission”. They have been detained since 20 December 2016.

The eight environmental defenders, namely; Briton Mateus Mgaya, Wakisa Elias Mwansangu, Majidi Nkota, Christandusi Ngowi, Ashura Kyula, Martin Guido Ndunguru, Wilbert Mahundi and Rainery Komba are all from Songea, Tanzania, and are affiliated with various civil society groups, some of which initiated a small consortium called Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission (TUAM). TUAM is a knowledge and information sharing platform on the socio-economic and environmental impacts of mining and extractive industries. Communities living around mining areas in Tanzania are experiencing a number of human rights violations such as land grabbing without or with poor compensation, killings by security guards, discrimination, water pollution, intimidation, and lack of consultation. The defenders have focused their cross-learning on democratic ownership and transparency in the mining sector and members had traveled to Malawi to learn more about mining governance in the Karonga township. The trip had been authorised by Malawian officials before their arrival.

On 12 April 2017, the eight Tanzanian environmental defenders were released following a court ruling by Mzuzu magistrate court. Each environmental defender was sentenced to one month for “criminal trespassing” and three months for “conducting reconnaissance without permission” respectively, with both sentences suspended for a period of six months. The eight Tanzanian environmental defenders have been detained in Mzuzu prison since 20 December 2016. Their trial commenced on 17 January 2016 where they were charged with “entering upon the premises of Kayekera Uranium Mine with intent to commit an offence” and “carrying out a reconnaissance operation without a licence”. The trial was slow to reach a verdict due to multiple adjournments by the magistrate court.

Front Line Defenders welcomes the decision of the Malawian authorities to release the eight environmental rights defenders from Tanzania, however it denounces their detention and the guilty verdict brought against them. Front Line Defenders believes that their judicial harassment, detention and sentencing is as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights work.
 

3 April 2017
8 Environmental Defenders Convicted

On 3 April 2017, the Mzuzu magistrate court (Malawi) convicted eight environmental rights defenders from Tanzania who had been detained since December 2016. Their sentencing is scheduled for 12 April 2017. The court found the defenders guilty of “criminal trespassing” and “conducting reconnaissance without permission”; the same charges that the prosecution brought against the defenders in connection with a planned visit to the Kayelekera Uranium mine.

The eight environmental defenders, namely; Briton Mateus Mgaya, Wakisa Elias Mwansangu, Majidi Nkota, Christandusi Ngowi, Ashura Kyula, Martin Guido Ndunguru, Wilbert Mahundi and Rainery Komba are all from Songea, Tanzania, and are affiliated with various civil society groups, some of which initiated a small consortium called Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission (TUAM). TUAM is a knowledge and information sharing platform on the socio-economic and environmental impacts of mining and extractive industries. The defenders have focused their cross-learning on democratic ownership and transparency in the mining sector, with some taking part in similar visits to countries other than Malawi.

The defenders’ trial commenced on 17 January 2016 but was slow to reach a verdict due to multiple adjournments. Among the witnesses presented by the prosecution were two state officials, namely the Director of Mines in the Malawian Ministry of Energy and Mining and one official at the Kayelekera Uranium mine. In light of their testimony and the cross-examination conducted by the defenders’ counsel, nothing suggested that the area where the defenders had been intercepted was restricted to non-Malawians. In addition, the Director of Mines went on to acknowledge that none of the defenders needed a license to visit the Kayelekera Uranium mine. Nonetheless, in his opinion, the magistrate largely ignored these facts and found the defenders guilty of criminal trespass.

With regard to the charge of “conducting a reconnaissance operation without permission”, the magistrate suggested that the defenders had intended to conduct reconnaissance based on the items found in their possession at the time of their planned visit, such as a note pad, vacuum flasks, a camera and a map depicting Kayelekera Uranium mine. He did not consider the fact that none of the accused had actually been in Kayelekera as they were intercepted by Police while still aboard a hired minibus. The presiding judge argued that one does not need to have sophisticated equipment for an operation of reconnaissance in a mine as such operations can even rely on "eye searches".

Having heard these arguments, the judge concluded that the prosecution had proven its case against the defenders beyond reasonable doubt and declared them guilty. Before sentencing is carried out on 12 April 2017, the court expects both the prosecution and the defence to present their submissions on the sentences the defenders should receive.

The defence has indicated that it will appeal the conviction as it believes that the magistrate’s examination of the facts was clearly biased in favour of state submissions, paying little attention to the issues raised by the defenders’ counsel.

Front Line Defenders is concerned at the conviction of the eight environmental rights defenders from Tanzania as they have not had a fair and equitable trial. Front Line Defenders continues to call on the Malawian authorities to drop the charges against the defenders and facilitate their safe return to their country.

24 February 2017
Judge adjourns TUAM members' trial for ninth time

On 22 February 2017, the trial of eight members of The Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission (TUAM) was adjourned for the ninth time since the trial began on 17 January 2017.

The Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission is a platform for knowledge exchange and information sharing on the socio-economic and environmental impacts related to mining and extractive industries. The group has emphasised cross-learning on democratic ownership and transparency in the mining sector and members had travelled to Malawi to learn more about mining governance in the Karonga township. The trip had been authorised by Malawian officials before their arrival.

The hearing was due to take place over two days, from 22-23 February 2017. After a full day of witness testimony and cross-examinations on 22 February 2017, the magistrate decided to adjourn the trial until 9 March 2017. In their decision, the magistrate affirmed that they could not make a decision based on the material evidence so far, and therefore the trial was postponed. The legal teams for the defence and the prosecution have until 6 March 2017 to submit further material and evidence.

During the trial on 22 February 2017, the defence team reported that key witnesses for the prosecution admitted that the arrest of the eight TUAM members was planned by Malawian authorities before the human rights defenders had even left their hotel to visit the mine. Furthermore, through the course of the cross examinations by the defence, it became clear that the human rights defenders did not require a licence to visit the mine, and they did not breach any laws in the planning and execution of their cross-learning mission.

The eight human rights defenders were originally arrested on 20 December 2016 and detained in Mzuzu prison until 17 January 2017 when they were charged with “entering upon the premises of Kayekera Uranium Mine with intent to commit an offence” and “carrying out a reconnaissance operation without a licence”. Since 17 January 2017, their trial has been adjourned nine times, and they have been kept in poor conditions in prison throughout the process. Their lawyers reported that the human rights defenders have not been given sufficient food and water while in detention, and all meetings with their lawyers, friends, and colleagues have been monitored by armed guards. Their lawyers express serious concern about their further detention and the effects that it will have on their physical and mental health.

Front Line Defenders expresses grave concern about the continued delays in the trial of the eight human rights defenders as it potentially impedes their right to a fair trial, as guaranteed under international law. Front Line Defenders calls on the Malawian authorities to drop all charges against the eight defenders, and to immediately and unconditionally release them so that they might safely return to Tanzania.

Read Also: Eight Environmental Activists on Trial in Malawi

16 February 2017
Trial of TUAM activists adjourned for eighth time

On 14 February 2017, the trial of eight members of The Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission (TUAM) was adjourned for the eighth time since it began on 17 January 2017. No reason was given for the adjournment. The next hearing is scheduled for 22 February 2017. 

The Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission is a platform for knowledge exchange and information sharing on the socio-economic and environmental impacts related to mining and extractive industries. The group has emphasised cross-learning on democratic ownership and transparency in the mining sector and members had travelled to Malawi to learn more about mining governance in the Karonga township. The trip had been authorised by Malawian officials before their arrival.

tuam.jpg

On 17 January 2017, eight Tanzanian members of TUAM were charged with “entering upon the premises of Kayekera Uranium Mine with intent to commit an offence” and “carrying out a reconnaissance operation without a licence”. Their trial was adjourned seven times before 14 February 2017, and since their detention in late December, they have been imprisoned in poor conditions in Mzuzu prison. The human rights defenders have been denied access to their families and lawyers in private, with all meetings between TUAM members and visitors monitored by armed guards. They have not had adequate food and water rations, and their requests to buy additional food and water with their own money have been denied. 

During the hearing from 13-14 February 2017, different witnesses, brought forward by the prosecution, were heard. The lawyers for TUAM report that during the cross-examination of two of the prosecution’s witnesses, both witnesses admitted inadvertently or intentionally to being part of a “trap”, orchestrated by the Malawian police force, to arrest the eight Tanzanian members of the group. The five Malawian members of the cross-learning mission were not taken into custody.

The defence attorneys for TUAM noted that the maximum penalty for “entering upon the premises of Kayekera Uranium Mine with intent to commit an offence” is three months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of Malawi Kwacha 100,000. All eight members of TUAM have already served this sentence.  Following this, the prosecution suggested that they “dwell on the second count of the charges”, i.e., “carrying out a reconnaissance operation without a licence”, and called on the defence to plead guilty to this charge, as a way to hasten the case along. The defence lawyer refused this suggestion, and the magistrate declared that the trial be adjourned until 22 February 2017.

Front Line Defenders believes that the eight members of TUAM are being judicially harassed as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights work and is deeply concerned about their physical and psychological integrity while in detention. Front Line Defenders calls on the Malawian government to immediately and unconditionally release the eight defenders and allow them to travel safely back to Tanzania.

20 January 2017
Continued detention of eight Tanzanian environmental defenders, and intimidatory acts against their lawyers

On 17 January 2017, a magistrate’s court in Malawi formally opened a criminal case against eight Tanzanian environmental defenders detained since 20 December 2016.  They were in Malawi in connection with a planned cross-learning tour on mining governance in Karonga. The tour  involved a visit to the Kayelekera uranium mine and was prepared in close collaboration with a senior security guard at the mine. In the aftermath of the court hearing, their lawyers reported being subjected to a number of intimidatory acts from individuals with links to the Malawian security services.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

The eight environmental defenders, namely Mr Briton Mateus Mgaya, Mr Wakisa Elias Mwansangu, Mr Majidi Nkota, Mr Christandusi Ngowi, Ms Ashura Kyula, Mr Martin Guido Ndunguru, Mr Wilbert Mahundi and Mr Rainery Komba are all from Songea, Tanzania, and are affiliated with various civil society groups, some of which initiated a small consortium called Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission (TUAM). TUAM is a platform for knowledge exchange and information sharing on the socio-economic and environmental impacts related to mining and extractives. They have emphasised cross-learning on democratic ownership and transparency in the mining sector, and some had even taken part in similar visits to countries other than Malawi.

On 20 December 2016, a day after they entered Malawi, the eight Tanzanian environmental defenders were intercepted by Malawian police moments after leaving their lodge to go to the Kayekera Uranium Mine. They were accompanied by five Malawians. The police ordered the whole group to follow them to the Karonga police unit. The Tanzanians were automatically held in police custody while their counterparts from Malawi were set free. The detained defenders were eventually taken to Mzuzu prison where detention conditions are reported to be characterized by overcrowding, poor sanitation and malnutrition.

Until 17 January 2017, when the case was brought before the Karonga Magistrate Court, there was some confusion on the allegations against the defenders. The police had hinted those allegations were “criminal trespassing” and “spying”; and the local media, including social media, featured a smear campaign against the defenders while suggesting that their cross-learning visit was nothing more than “cover for an act of “espionage. At the opening of the trial, the detained defenders were notified that they stood charged with “entering upon the premises of Kayekera Uranium Mine with intent to commit an offence” and “carrying out a reconnaissance operation without a licence.” The trial was postponed until 26 January 2017.

Meanwhile the lawyers trying to assist the detained defenders have reported instances where members of the police took their photographs, trailed the cars they were being transported in, and at least once confronted them with such questions as “why are you here?”, “where are you staying?”.

Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the physical and psychological integrity of the 8 detained Tanzanian environmental defenders and it believes they are being judicially harassed as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights work.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Malawi to:

1. Immediately and unconditionally release the eight Tanzanian human rights defenders, as Front Line Defenders believes that they are being held solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;

2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of the eight Tanzanian human rights defenders while in prison and ensure that the treatment of each of the human rights defenders, while in detention, adheres to the conditions set out in the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment', adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988;

3. Take all necessary measures to guarantee to halt harassment of the lawyers involved in this case to ensure that the human rights defenders  have access to a fair trial;

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Malawi are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions