CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Uganda

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 22.01.2019 at 06:30

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Protests violently dispersed, journalists detained

Protests violently dispersed, journalists detained

Peacecul Assembly

On 15th December 2018, police in Jinja town blocked Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, from holding a scheduled concert and fired tear gas to disperse his supporters and fans. The event had been organized by Queen's Palace bar along Iganga road in Jinja district. The police proceeded to raid a hotel where Kyagulanyi was staying in an attempt to arrest him. However, he eluded them and managed to flee to Kampala. The police had earlier on tasked the event organisers to remove Bobi Wine from the list of artists before they could approve the event. Although posters announcing the event had Bobi Wine's name and portrait, he did not appear on the final list of artists "approved" by the police. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Bobi Wine, a fierce critic of President Yoweri Museveni's leadership is currently battling treason charges.

On 19th November 2018, police and UPDF soldiers violently dispersed a protest by businessmen and local politicians against constant electricity blackouts within Gulu Municipality. They argued that the continous power outage was affecting their businesses. Several shops and businesses closed as the police engaged in running battles with the protestors using teargas and live bullets. An unverified number of protesters were also arrested.

Reacting to the use of force by the police to disperse protestors, Kilak South Member of Parliament Gilbert Olanya who led the protest said:

“Time is now for Police and other security agencies to give way to people who protest against issues affecting them.” 

On 17th November 2018, police fired sporadic gunshots at protesters in Lira town after the funeral of a child in Kole District turned violent. The child was reportedly killed by two foreign nationals on 9th November. The chaos ensued after Lira town’s district chairman attempted to make a speech at the funeral, but was booed and blocked from speaking by the mourners. Police engaged in running battles with the mourners who wanted to lynch the district chairman. The incident spread to a neighbouring town when street children started attacking Indian nationals doing business in the Lango principle trade centre.

Expression

On 17th November, Unity FM radio station in Lira was shut down and six of its journalists arrested on orders of the Resident District Commissioner, Milton Odong, for allegedly inciting violence. Although the six journalists were released on 19th November, they were re-arrested the following day at Lira Central Police Station when they reported to the station to renew their police bond. The station was closed on allegations of inciting violence after they aired live coverage of protests during the funeral of a child who was allegedly killed by two Indian nationals (reported above under Peaceful Assembly). The station’s director however described the attack as politically motivated because of the radio’s persistent call for accountability by the district leaders for funds received from the government to enable service delivery. 

On 2nd November 2018, Makerere University researcher Dr. Stella Nyanzi was arrested at Makerere University on allegations that she insulted President Museveni and his deceased mother, on her Facebook social media account on 16th September. She was remanded at Luzira maximum prison. The Superintendent of Police Vincent Ssekatte said she committed the offence of cyber harassment and offensive communication. According to Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act (2011) on offensive communication, “Any person who willfully and repeatedly uses electronic communication to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication whether or not a conversation ensues commits a misdemeanor and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty-four currency points or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both.”

Association

In mid-December 2018, representatives from civil society organisations met with the Internal Affairs Minister- Jeje Odongo in Kampala, to discuss the delayed conclusion of investigations into the systematic office break-ins of Non-Governmental Organisations. The representatives tasked the minister to explain the lack of accountability for the office raids. According to the minister, the police continue with the investigations and will make their findings public once the inquiries are concluded. Since 2012, 30 organisations have been burgled.

Wokulira Ssebagala, a human rights activist who attended the meeting said:

“…sadly, law enforcement and CID (Criminal Investigations Department) did not seem so eager when it came to investigating other issues, especially related to CSOs who are ‘perceived to be against government.”

Leonard Okello, Chief Executive Officer for UHURU Institute of Social Development, which was raided last year, also said:

“What makes the break-ins very concerning is a fact that the attackers have repeatedly targeted organisation documents and other confidential information of no ordinary financial gain.” 

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.