In July, PBI was requested by Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka (‘Keepers of Chuka Community Land’) Trust community group to accompany them to a court hearing related to the case against them. Since colonial times, ABC Trust has been campaigning to reclaim a particular section of the Mount Kenya National Reserve in Chuka, which they maintain to be part of their ancestral land.
On 8th January 2016, 19 members of ABC Trust were arrested and charged for being in the forest without a license and illegally erecting a tent there. The case has dragged on, often with court hearings being postponed at the last minute. It is yet to be heard in court, an illustrative example of the criminalisation of land and environmental rights defenders’ work. The Court Hearing finally took place on 17th July. Two witnesses in the case, forest officers, provided testimony, but the third one summoned could not appear because he was transferred to another police station, which is why the judge rescheduled the hearing to the 21st August in order to hear his testimony.
During this visit, we accompanied Wendy, HRD and lawyer, along with Silas Mutegi and Ngai Mutuoboro, active members of ABC Trust, while they were monitoring the state of their ancestral lands. We observed their most sacred tree, which they call mugumo wanyuenje, used for spiritual purposes, and how the introduction of water-draining eucalyptus and corn in the forest is affecting the protected area negatively by drying the soil and devouring the forest.
On 21st August, following another request from ABC Trust, PBI Kenya returned to Chuka for another court hearing. However, this one was postponed because the magistrate was not present. It was then agreed that PBI and the ABC Trust could look over the security recommendations related with the risk assessment session provided by PBI previously.
PBI returned to Chuka in early September in order to carry out external communications and advocacy and outreach work. We are currently preparing an article which will be published in Spanish and English in PBI Colombia's next bulletin on the struggles that land and environmental rights defenders are facing across the various countries where PBI works. We took this opportunity to conduct several meetings with the Police authorities in Chuka. The aim of these meetings was to introduce PBI and establish a rapport with the authorities in the area.