Nairobi — A new report says Kenyan authorities have harassed and abused environmental activists protesting the development of a new coal plant.
The Human Rights Watch and National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders report, titled “They Just Want to Silence Us” details harassment and abuses against Kenyan environmental activists who have campaigned against a proposed coal plant in Lamu County, in Kenya's Coast region.
Otsieno Namwaya, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said they speak up, but then "after they speak up they either face threats, sometimes anonymous threats on phone."
"Sometimes there is in-person threats from people they identify as police officers," added Namwaya, "but they have also been arrested, detained, they have been interrogated."
The proposed plant, estimated to cost $2 billion, is waiting for the green light from Kenya's environmental court. It will be constructed by a Chinese company — China Power Global.
Kenyan officials insist the plant will help meet the country’s growing demand for electric power.
Kenya's environmental agency has accepted the plans, saying all environmental concerns were considered.
Critics, however, believe such a project will pollute the environment and damage the marine ecosystem.
Human Rights Watch has documented actions against 35 campaigners during the past five years. The group also accuses Kenyan security agencies of breaking up protests and restricting public meetings in Lamu County.
Activist Ishaq Abubakar, who works with Save Lamu, an organization that fights for the rights of the people, said projects that bring "destruction to our natural resources," will "wipe out our culture. How do you expect the community to leave?"
"So when we stand up and speak up about our challenges and problems — that is when you get problems," he said. "You get arrested, harassed, beaten, tear-gassed, or someone detains you in a different place and he has nothing to charge you for.”
Government spokesman Eric Kirathe denied the accusations.
"Reports like intimidation of activists on environmental matters can only be ... [a] wrong reference," he said they can be based on wrong information, because it is the policy of the government to work with any and every party interested in matters of the environmental conservation."
Kamau Ngugi, head of National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, called on the government to respect the rule of law, including the rights to freedom of assembly, and the right to a healthy environment.