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LAPSSET project: Focus on health concerns instead of harassing activists - Human Rights.

Kenyan authorities should address environmental and health concerns relating to LAPSSET project instead of harassing activists in Lamu, Human Rights Watch has said.

In a report on Monday, Africa Researcher Otsieno Namwaya said the police and the military are harassing and intimidating environmental rights activists.

"Silencing activists is not going to resolve the concerns over whether the government plans are going to harm the environment and the people living there," he said.

At least 35 activists campaigning against the region's infrastructure and transport projects have faced threats, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and detentions.

'The government brands activists who speak against the project as terrorists. Police arrest, detain and even interrogate activists in a bid to intimidate them," 32-year-old teacher told the Watch.

The project, the largest infrastructure project in East and Central Africa, envisions a 32-berth seaport in Lamu, three international airports, road and railway network, three resort cities, and other associated projects such as the coal-fired power plant.

LAPSSET Corridor Development Authority, has donated over 975 acres of land for the construction of the Lamu coal fired power plant.

The activists say the plant will emit smoke that contains hazardous particulate matter, discharge waste effluents into the sea that could kill fish and other sea animals, and further emit coal dust that poses serious health risks.

They also worry the port construction is destroying mangrove forests and breeding grounds for fish and other marine animals.

The activists further told the Watch of the government taking their farmland, with most of it yet to result in compensation, risks of water pollution from waste discharge, and climate change brought about by greenhouse gas emissions.

A 34-year-old activist advocating public participation in decision-making for the project said he was arrested in October 2015 in the village of Ndau, by about 10 Criminal Investigations officers.

Read: UK to train Lamu residents to benefit directly from Lapsset

They took him to the sub-county commissioner's office, where he was detained for a few hours.

"Police then told me to stop opposing government projects because they were meant to benefit us," he said.

Executive director at the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya Kamau Ngugi said Kenyan authorities should take concrete steps to uphold freedom of expression.

"The government response to Lamu activists is a test case for Kenya to uphold and protect rights in the context of large-scale development projects,' he said.

"Kenyan authorities have an obligation to respect the role of activists and to uphold the rights outlined in international treaties."

In May and August 2018, Human Rights Watch documented incidents of harassment, intimidation, and other abuses against at least 35 activists over the past five years.

On December 1, environmental activists asked the state to kill plans for the Sh200 billion Lamu coal plant following the Blue Economy conference.

The activists said the proposed coal project flies in the face of the agenda of sustainable economies for communities living close to water.

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Publication:The Star (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Dec 17, 2018
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