2023 Right Livelihood Laureate Phyllis Omido

Police brutality in Kenya raises safety concerns for Phyllis Omido, local environmental defenders

News 24.05.2024

Police in Uyombo, Kenya, fired 137 live rounds and 70 tear gas canisters near a group of peaceful protestors and arrested two environmental defenders on Tuesday, May 21, after the community gathered to oppose the construction of a nuclear reactor in their area. Right Livelihood Laureate Phyllis Omido, who is at the forefront of efforts to stop the dangerous project and is currently abroad, fears arrest upon her return to Kenya.

Uyombo, a biodiverse area between the Watamu National Marine Park and the Arabuko Sokoke Forest known for its mangroves and coral reefs, has been earmarked for the construction of Kenya’s first nuclear reactor by the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA) without consulting the local community. 

While the construction poses significant health and environmental risks, no comprehensive assessment has been conducted, leaving residents in the dark. 

Protests broke out on Tuesday after work began on the construction of the nuclear reactor. The day before, NuPEA officials installed a seismic station at a secondary school in the village without informing the community. When a woman questioned officials over the move, she was brutalised by police.

“The police turned around and beat her quite badly and injured her,” said Omido. “Now she is in hospital. This triggered protests from the community…everyone started chanting and singing that they were opposed to a process they were not involved in.”

According to an official police report, authorities opened fire in response, shooting hundreds of live and blank rounds, as well as tear gas canisters, to disperse the crowd. 

“The government has decided against the will of the community and without public participation to put up a nuclear power plant,” said Omido. “If they had gone into the community to seek a peaceful process, why were they so heavily armed?”

Omido’s colleagues from the Center for Justice Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA), Sanita Kitole and Moses Kalume, were severely beaten by police officers and consequently arrested despite requiring urgent medical attention. Now Omido, who is set to return to Kenya following an advocacy trip abroad, could face retaliation for her organising efforts.

“Laws must be enforced equally for a just energy transition and for the right to a clean and healthy environment to be a reality for all communities,” said Omido.

Omido, who began her work as an environmental defender when a lead battery smelting plant poisoned her community, has been a leading voice against the construction of this and other nuclear reactors in Kenya.

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