CIVICUS

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Uganda

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Last updated on 19.10.2018 at 14:03

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Protests banned and journalists Attacked as Popular Opposition MP Returns

Protests banned and journalists Attacked as Popular Opposition MP Returns

Bobi wine returns to the country, amidst a ban on protests. CSOs raise concerns over increased office break ins with no conclusive investigations. Journalists continue to bear the brunt of police brutality.

Association

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, on 23rd August 2018, MP Robert Kyagulanyi popularly known as 'Bobi Wine' who was charged with treason alongside 34 other politicians following campaign violence during an August by-election in Arua, was released from military custody and charges against him dropped. However, Kyagulanyi was immediately handed to the Ugandan police and re-arrested on charges of treason. A few days later, on 27th August 2018, he and the others who had been arrested were released on bail. Kyagulanyi then left the country to seek medical treatment in the United States following accusations of alleged torture by state security forces.

On 20th September 2018, the opposition MP returned to Uganda after receiving medical treatment. Upon arrival in Uganda, he was separated from other passengers at the airport, and escorted by police to his home. Eddie Yamwa, Kyagulanyi’s brother, was also arrested at the airport.

While in the US, Kyagulanyi spoke about his experiences at a highly publicised press conference. Following this, several US Senators released a joint statement condemning the “deterioration of democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms in Uganda.”

His case was adjourned to 3rd December 2018 after the prosecution requested for more time to conclude its investigations before the trial. Kyagulanyi returned to Parliament on 2nd October.

In a separate development, on 12th September 2018, the Twerwaneho Listener’s Club (TLC), a NGO operating in the crater lakes region of Western Uganda, was broken into for the third time in less than a month. On the evening of 11th September 2018, there was also an attempted robbery at the home of the organisation's executive director, although it is unclear whether the two incidents were related.

Sheila Muwanga, Deputy Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative said:

“We are deeply concerned about the series of break-ins that have targeted civil society organisations lately. The Ugandan government should ensure that those responsible for ….the burglary are found and held accountable, and take steps to end this pattern of break-ins.”

Since 2013, over 30 human rights organisations have had their offices broken into but investigations by authorities remain inconclusive.

Nicolas Opiyo, Executive Director of Chapter Four said:

“It is of concern that assailants do not only look for valuable goods, but also steal confidential organisational documents. This indicates that the break-ins are not random, but target human rights organisations specifically.” 

In another unrelated incident, on 3rd October 2018, police raided the home of Edith Byanyima, sister-in-law of prominent opposition politician Kizza Besigye and sister to Winnie Byanyima - the Executive Director of Oxfam International. Ugandan authorities who failed to produce a search warrant, claimed they were searching for 'illegal material' and confiscated 24 red napkins, which are allegedly a symbol of Besigye's Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party. 

Peaceful Assembly

Protests erupted in Kampala on 31st August 2018 after opposition MP Kyagulanyi was initially barred from leaving the country to seek medical treatment. Security forces were deployed to the low-income neighbourhood of Kamwokya, Kyagulanyi’s stronghold popularly known as the “Ghetto Republic.” On 11th September, security agents broke up a preparation meeting for Kyagulanyi’s return, arresting one of the assembly organisers.

Police in Uganda have been accused severally of violence against demonstrators, including shooting and killing a protester on 23rd August 2018, a pattern that has repeated itself over the last decade. On 19th September 2018, ahead of Kyagulanyi’s return, the government banned all rallies and demonstrations associated with his homecoming. Security forces enforced this ban on 20th September 2018, by beating unarmed protesters with wooden sticks and firing tear gas.

Expression

Throughout August 2018, police and national security forces were repeatedly accused of harassing, beating, and arbitrarily detaining journalists covering unrest related to the trial of several opposition MPs. On 20th August 2018, security forces beat up and detained at least four journalists covering protests in Kampala, and confiscated or damaged their equipment. These included Reuters photojournalist James Akena, Alfred Ochwo, a photojournalist with The Observer, and NTV journalists Ronald Galiwango and Juma Kirya. Footage of Akena being beaten was widely circulated on social media. In light of the footage police  announced on social media that they were investigating the incident. While covering a protest in Kampala, Joshua Mujunga, a photojournalist with NBS TV, was also severely beaten by police who proceeded to forcibly delete footage from his camera.

At least eight other journalists were arrested attempting to cover Kyagulanyi's return from treatment in the US, with six arrested and detained for four hours at Entebbe International Airport. BBC Nairobi correspondent Ferdinand Omondi was also detained for five hours following an interview with Kyagulanyi on 20th September.

The Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda also reported that several journalists had received threatening messages and phone calls after their contact information was leaked to a series of viral social media messages, identifying them as agents of the political opposition.

Referring to the pattern of attacks on journalists during the protests around Kyagulani’s arrest, Maria Burnett, an associate director at Human Rights Watch in charge of East Africa said:

“Security forces have beaten journalists with limited repercussions for years in Uganda. Other government bodies then censor coverage of army-orchestrated violence.… with more and more cameras readily available, beating or censoring the messenger isn’t feasible in the long term. It will only lead to more fodder for citizen journalists and more questions about why the government resorts to violence in the face of criticism."

In a press statement issued on 12th September 2018, the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Uganda (FCAU) highlighted that at least 10 foreign reporters were denied government accreditation since August 2018, despite fulfilling all of the requirements and following the correct procedure. They linked this to the recent unrest in the country and ongoing harassment of local journalists covering these developments.

In their statement, FCAU stated:

“Preventing international journalist[s] from working in Uganda adds to a troubling recent pattern of intimidation and violence against journalists. Stopping a number of international media houses from reporting legally inside Uganda is another attempt to gag journalists”

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.