CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Uganda

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 28.09.2021 at 09:09

Latest Civicus alert

See all CIVICUS Alerts

The Civic Space Developments

view Civic Space Developments
54 NGOs suspended, concern over repeated attacks against journalists covering curfew enforcement

54 NGOs suspended, concern over repeated attacks against journalists covering curfew enforcement

Government suspends the operations of 54 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) due to “non-compliance” with the NGO Act 2016; Augustine Ojobile, the electoral commission secretary of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was arrested for involvement in a “coffin protest”, where several activists demonstrated against the alleged embezzlement of COVID-19 funds; Several incidents reported concerning police officers using violence and force on journalists while enforcing a 7 PM to 5.30 AM curfew imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Association

On 20th August 2021, the government suspended the operations of 54 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) due to “non-compliance” with the NGO Act 2016. According to the National Bureau for NGOs, 23 NGOs were operating with expired permits, 15 NGOs had failed to file annual returns and audited books of account to the NGO Bureau, and 16 NGOs were operating without registering with the NGO Bureau. The NGOs claimed they were being harassed for political purposes. On 24th August 2021, the Ugandan National NGO Forum (UNNGOF) met with the Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon Kahinda Otafireto, to discuss the NGO suspensions, where they agreed to seek an immediate amicable resolution.

Reacting to the suspensions, a group of 54 NGOs released a joint statement on 27th August 2021 criticising the government for restricting the rights to freedom of expression and association and calling for the government to rescind the decision.

The statement read in part:

“The suspension of the organizations is arbitrary, as it goes against Section 33 (2) of the NGO Act, which requires the Bureau to give 30 days’ notice in writing to permit holders to enable them to show cause why the permit should not be revoked. Suspension of independent civil society organizations simply for carrying out their work is an attack on human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and association. Suspending civil society organizations also exposes those organizations to additional legal risks if they are unable to pay staff or suppliers”. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 10th August 2021, Augustine Ojobile, the electoral commission secretary of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was arrested for involvement in a “coffin protest”, where several activists demonstrated against the alleged embezzlement of COVID-19 funds.The protesters placed coffins near Mulago National Referral Hospital with placards demanding the resignation of Dr. Diana Atwine, the Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary. 

Expression

Several incidents have been reported concerning police officers using violence and force on journalists while enforcing a 7 PM to 5.30 AM curfew imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

On 30th July 2021, police officers assaulted Scovin Iceta, a reporter for the Daily Monitor newspaper and NTV Uganda while he was taking photos of the police using force to disperse people after the start of the curfew. Iceta was assaulted despite wearing a vest identifying him as a journalist. In addition, police officers confiscated his camera and deleted the photos he took. In another incident, police officers stopped and punched Patrick Bukenya, a Radio Mityana FM journalist for violating the 7pm curfew as he was returning home on the evening of 1st August 2021. Similarly, Sam Welikhe, a journalist working with Radio Elgon, and Radio Ankole journalist Arinatwe Emmanuel Kajungu were both beaten by police officers in separate incidents. The attacks were connected to their reports covering curfews.

In other developments, on 6th August 2021, social media activist Fred Lumbuye was arrested in Turkey allegedly because of his criticism of President Yoweri Museveni, with reports indicating that he was likely to be extradited to Uganda. Lumbuye was accused of starting rumours that Museveni had died. Police spokesman Fred Enanga said that some of the charges against him include spreading harmful propaganda and inciting the public to protest by sharing videos on his platform, among other cyber crimes.

During a workshop organised by Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) in mid-August 2021, female journalists spoke out about the gender-related threats, harassment and intimidation they face on social media sites like Facebook and WhatsApp. Several female journalists self-censor on social media because of the abuse and threats. The workshop focused on addressing the safety challenges of women journalists through policymakers, human rights defenders and law enforcers.

On 26th August 2021, security officers detained Henry Wasswa Lumanyika, a senior correspondent with Deutsche Press Agentur on charges of criminal trespass. Lumanyika was accused of interviewing Afghan evacuees who arrived in Uganda on 25th August 2021 following the Taliban takeover of government in Afghanistan. According to Luke Owoyesigire, Kampala Metropolitan Police deputy spokesperson, the hotel was out of bounds for security purposes. However, Lumanyika claims that there was no sign that the hotel was off-limits to Ugandan natives or other tourists. The government warned media houses against publishing photos of evacuees as it could put their lives in danger.

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.