Mbuti 'Pygmies' freed from prison

Uganda – Seven 'Pygmy' men who were being held without trial are freed after Survival protests

Last year seven Mbuti 'Pygmies' from the Semliki valley in the far west of Uganda were arrested and imprisoned without trial. They had been accused of helping the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who operate from bases in the Ruwenzori mountains and across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There are only 72 Mbuti in Uganda (they are an offshoot of the much larger Mbuti population over the border in the DRC) so the loss of seven adult men, including the community leader, was a severe blow.

The ADF are a mix of groups hostile to the Uganda government, including the notorious Interahamwe militia who were responsible for the Rwandan genocide. Since 1997, the Semliki Mbuti have found themselves caught in the middle of constant border raids, and are easily terrorised into acting as trackers.

Survival protested to the local authorities after the men's arrest, pointing out the vulnerable situation of the Mbuti, and demanding that the prisoners be either tried speedily or released. Now all the group has been freed, and the community has set up an association to fight for its rights.