CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Uganda

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 22.07.2021 at 09:42

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Attack on freedom of expression and 44 people arrested for attending LGBTQI engagement

Attack on freedom of expression and 44 people arrested for attending LGBTQI engagement

The Constitutional Court delivered a judgement on 2nd July 2021 that stopped the military court from trying civilian suspects. The ruling deems it unconstitutional for civilians to be tried in the military court if they are not subject to the military system. The court ordered the transfer to the civil court of all civilian cases being tried in the military court, and for the transfer of all persons serving a sentence imposed by the military court to the High Court Criminal Division for retrial. On 15th July 2021, the Supreme Court granted an interim order suspending the implementation of the Constitutional Court order. The Supreme Court will decide on the case on 29th July 2021, when the temporary order lapses.

General Update

The Constitutional Court delivered a judgement on 2nd July 2021 that stopped the military court from trying civilian suspects. The ruling deems it unconstitutional for civilians to be tried in the military court if they are not subject to the military system. The court ordered the transfer to the civil court of all civilian cases being tried in the military court, and for the transfer of all persons serving a sentence imposed by the military court to the High Court Criminal Division for retrial. On 15th July 2021, the Supreme Court granted an interim order suspending the implementation of the Constitutional Court order. The Supreme Court will decide on the case on 29th July 2021, when the temporary order lapses.

Association

44 people arrested for attending LGBTQI engagement

On 31st May 2021, police officers arrested 44 people attending an engagement at an LGBTQI shelter, Happy Family Youth in Wakiso district. They were charged with “negligent act likely to spread an infectious disease”. During the arrest, the police allegedly beat up some of the men and recorded them, according to a video circulated on social media outing some of the attendees. According to reports, some of the men were subjected to anal examinations. On 8th June 2021, they were released on bail.

Political opposition released

On 14th June 2021, 18 opposition supporters were released on bail by the Ugandan military court. As previously reported by the Monitor, the opposition supporters were arrested while campaigning for allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions. They were later re-arrested and accused of unlawful possession of ammunition under the Firearms Act. Critics claim the detention was politically motivated.

Expression

More journalists detained, intimidated and harassed

On 20th May 2021, the African Institute for Investigative Journalism aired a documentary detailing accounts of journalists who were targeted while covering the 2021 elections. The documentary highlights the violence, intimidation and harassment journalists were subjected to. On 27th May 2021, the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s Court detained Pidson Kareire and Darious Magaea, two online journalists working for Drone Media and the East African Watch.net. The two journalists were charged with criminal libel under section 179 of the Penal Code. They were accused of publishing defamatory claims about a Ugandan infrastructure company, Dott Services Limited. On 17th June 2021, the two journalists were granted bail.

New tax laws may affect freedom of speech

On 1st July 2021, the government introduced a new tax measure on internet data, abolishing the Over The Top (OTT) tax that was imposed in 2018. The Ugandan government imposed a 12 per cent tax on internet data in an initiative to raise revenues for public services says the minister of state for finance and planning, Amos Lugoloobi. Opposition leader Bobi Wine criticises the new tax as an attack on freedom of speech. Human rights lawyer Moses Serwanga claims the new tax will impact business, freedom to access information and access to education, with the current lockdown enforced in Uganda.

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.