CIVICUS

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Uganda

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Last updated on 10.05.2018 at 08:17

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Journalists denied access to police courts

Journalists denied access to police courts

In April, Ugandan journalist were denied access to a police court that was expected to hand down a ruling on charges against a former police commander . In March , the court declined to grant an application by human rights activist Stella Nyanzi seeking dismissal of the criminal charges against her. Authorities dropped charges of against the artist David Mugema and producer John Muwanguzi, for a song allegedly calling for President Yoweri Museveni to retire.

Expression

Journalists denied access to courts and assaulted

On 19th April 2018, Ugandan journalists were denied access to a police court that was expected to hand down a ruling on charges against former Buyende District Police Commander Muhammad Kirumira. He was charged with unlawful arrests and excessive use of authority in 2013 and 2014 and subsequently demoted. Counter-terrorism police were deployed at all entrances to the court. 

On 22nd February, police also blocked journalists from covering court proceedings in the same case, during which time a reporter with Bukedde newspaper was allegedly assaulted. When asked about the decision to block journalists' access, a police spokesperson defended the decision, saying that the media coverage was “causing excitement on the side of the defendant".

In response to these incidents, Ugandan journalists announced that they would consider boycotting cases with a police presence, as a form of protest.

Court declines to dismiss charges against activist

In March 2018, Chief Magistrate James Eremye Mawanda declined human rights activist Stella Nyanzi's petition to dismiss the criminal charges against her.

Ugandan academic and feminist activist Stella Nyanzi was charged in March 2017 under the Computer Misuse Act based on her social media statements, including one where she referred to President Yoweri Museveni as “a pair of buttocks”. She denies any wrongdoing and was released on bail on 10th May 2017.

In October 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found her detention to be arbitrary on the basis that her initial arrest and detention lacked a legal justification and that there were violations of the right to a fair trial. 

There are also fears that she could be sent to a psychiatric ward as the state has also made a request to ascertain her mental condition under the Mental Treatment Act. Nyazi filed a petition in May 2017 with the Constitutional Court challenging the provisions of the Mental Treatment Act under which the prosecution sought a mental health examination.

Nyanzi remains indefinitely suspended from her position at Makerere University because of the ongoing criminal charges against her.

Authorities drop charges against musician

On 13th April, the authorities dropped charges of “disturbing the peace of the president and offensive communication” against the artist David Mugema and producer John Muwanguzi. The charged had been made initially over a song they had written called "Mzei Wumula", which translates to "Old man take a break". 

The song allegedly calls for President Yoweri Museveni to retire. Prosecutors had asserted that the song "attacked and disturbed the peace" of Museveni, who has been in power for more than three decades.

Proposed taxation on social media use

In a letter to the Minister of Finance dated 12th March 2018, President Yoweri Museveni announced a planned daily tax of 200 Ugandan shillings (approximately 0.05 USD) for using social media channels on mobile devices. The tax would supposedly keep users from “rumour mongering”.

While Finance Minister Matia Kasaija defended the plan as a way to raise much-needed revenue, human rights activists have denounced it as part of wider attempt to curtail freedom of expression. Ugandan authorities blocked access to social media channels twice during the 2016 electoral cycle.

Association in Uganda

In January 2016, the president signed the Non-Governmental Organisations Act into law.

In January 2016, the president signed the Non-Governmental Organisations Act into law.Although the final version of the Act does not contain many of the problematic provisions of the draft bill, the legislation still places limits on the independence of organisations and the freedom of association. For instance, the act bars organisations from doing anything that would be deemed as prejudicial to the ‘security of Uganda’ and the ‘interests of Uganda and the dignity of Ugandans’.Some organisations have argued that the inclusion of the vague term ‘dignity’ is aimed at targeting and limiting the work of LGBTI organisations in Uganda that have faced significant challenges in recent years. Organisations and human rights defenders are subject to intimidation and face physical attacks, threats and harassment by state and non-state actors. On several occasions, the premises of human rights organisations have been the targets of suspicious robberies, during which computers and other documents have been stolen.

Peaceful Assembly in Uganda

Although a constitutionally protected right, the authorities have violently supressed peaceful demonstrations and police have routinely arrested protesters, especially in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

Although a constitutionally protected right, the authorities have violently supressed peaceful demonstrations and police have routinely arrested protesters, especially in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The Public Order Management Law (POMA), passed in 2013, contains unjustifiable restrictions on the right to assemble peacefully. For example, the legislation grants the police discretionary powers to prohibit public meetings if they are not deemed to be in the ‘public interest’. Under that mandate, the police have disrupted many public assemblies organised by opposition political parties and student movements, arresting the organisers in the process. POMA also gives enforcement agencies power to use broad force to disperse assemblies. On 15 February 2016, police used excessive force to disperse protesters who were calling for the release of opposition candidate Kizza Besigye. As a result, one person was killed and several others were wounded.

Expression in Uganda

Uganda has one of the more vibrant media environments in the region; however, in practice the government restricts the exercise of the right to free expression, using intimidation and attacks against independent journalists and tactics that close spaces for a plural and diverse media.

Uganda has one of the more vibrant media environments in the region; however, in practice the government restricts the exercise of the right to free expression, using intimidation and attacks against independent journalists and tactics that close spaces for a plural and diverse media. The space for journalists to practise unhindered became even more restricted in the run-up to and during elections. For example, the government closed radio stations that granted airtime to opposition candidates, and arrested radio journalist Richard Mungu Jakican while he was conducting an interview regarding the presidential elections. Moreover, on election day, the government ordered the telecommunication providers to shut down all social media platforms due to ‘security concerns’. Criminal defamation legislation is still in place and used to silence critical voices. Although there is an access to information law in Uganda, the Official Secrets Act of 1964 has not been repealed and can be used to limit access to information. Government has also ordered media to dedicate one hour of broadcasting per week to government programmes.

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