CIVICUS

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Uganda

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Last updated on 30.04.2019 at 13:49

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Museveni endorsed for 6th term, as opposition leaders continue to face harassment

Museveni endorsed for 6th term, as opposition leaders continue to face harassment

Uganda's ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party endorsed President Yoweri Museveni as its candidate for the 2021 general elections, paving the way for the 74-year-old leader, who came to power in 1986, to run for a sixth term. His candidacy comes after the signing of a controversial bill in January 2018 that scrapped the presidential age limit of 75 from the country’s constitution.

On 18th April 2019, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier decision by the constitutional court in July 2018 which scrapped a presidential age limit for those contending for presidency during elections, which allows Museveni to run again in the next elections.

Expression

On 6th February 2019, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the state broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, wrote a letter to the Daily Monitor's parent company, Monitor Publications Limited, ordering the company to immediately suspend publication of its news website, according to a copy of the letter seen by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The letter alleged that the Daily Monitor had not complied with a 2018 directive requiring all content providers, including news websites in Uganda to gain authorisation from the Commission.

CPJ's Sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo said:

"The Uganda Communications Commission's use of already problematic online regulations sends a message that journalists can expect editorial interference in the guise of regulation…. We call on the agency to withdraw the directive for the suspension of the Daily Monitor and to allow the independent press to do its work freely."

On 7th February, BBC and NBS journalists were arrested while investigating a story about black market drugs in Kampala. After spending two nights in detention, they were released on police bond on charges of unlawful possession of classified drugs. According to BBC and NBS, both stations had commissioned investigations into alleged sale of Uganda government drugs on the black market.

In other developments, according to the UCC, Internet subscription in the country declined by more than 5 million users since the government imposed a social media tax in 2018. President Museveni pushed for the taxes to boost government revenue and to end "gossip" on WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter - critics maintain the tax is meant to stifle online communication by making it prohibitively expensive for rural, economically disenfranchised citizens. However, the figures may also indicate a rise in those using VPNs to access the web.

As the clampdown on free expression continues, the government is proposing new regulations including vetting new songs, videos, and film scripts prior to their release. Artists will have to register with the government and obtain a licence that can be revoked for a range of reasons. More than 120 musicians, writers, artists, and Ugandan members of parliament have signed a petition calling on the government to abandon its plan to introduce new regulations restricting artistic freedom of expression.

One of the signatories, Nigerian musician Femi Anikulapo Kuti said:

“I was greatly concerned to learn of the Ugandan government’s proposed plans to oblige every musician, artist and filmmaker to register and to submit the lyrics of their songs and the scripts of their films for governmental approval. Also to oblige all artists to seek permission before performing or touring outside of the country. This proposed legislation will eliminate any form of criticism or alternative opinion which, in fact, is healthy for any democratic government to flourish. I appeal to President Museveni to reconsider the imposition of this disastrous plan. Artistic freedom of expression is the bedrock of a healthy society and, contrary to the proposed legislation, should be nurtured and encouraged.”

On 18th March 2019, two activists from the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party assaulted journalists who had gone to cover the party’s weekly press conference in Kampala. They reportedly locked several journalists inside the conference room after realising that Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, the party spokesman, who was slated to address the journalists would not show up.

On 22nd April 2019, it was reported that popular music artist and Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi popularly known as Bobi Wine was arrested and detained by police officers after they shut down his concert and dispersed his fans using tear gas. A day prior to the show, police cancelled the show citing safety concerns and sealed off roads leading to the venue. On the day of the concert, as Bobi Wine tried to access the venue, his fans clashed with police with the former throwing stones, while the police lobbed teargas. Wine who is a prominent critic of President Museveni has had his concerts banned several times. He was arrested and later dropped off at his home. However, police officers later that evening surrounded his home a few hours after he announced his intention to hold a procession to the police station to protest the continuous frustration of his music concerts, and intimidation of opposition politicians. The police effectively placed him under house arrest to prevent him from holding what they termed as 'unlawful public assemblies'.

Peaceful Assembly

On 29th April 2019, it was reported that Bobi Wine, was re-arrested again, just days after his house arrest was lifted by authorities (as reported above in the expression section). According to reports, Wine was arrested in Kampala and charged with disobedience of statutory duty when he staged an anti #SocialMediaTax protest in July 2018. At the time of writing this update, available information indicates that he is to be detained in remand until 2nd May 2019.

On 20th February 2019 the anti-riot police were deployed to cordon off Jinja rugby ground where a rally by the Democratic Party (DP) had been scheduled. Upon arrival to the venue that morning, the party’s president Nobert Mao was arrested after he refused to leave the premises. The police then took him to Jinja police station for interrogation after which police lobbed teargas to disperse a crowd of his followers who had gathered outside the station. After he was released, Mao and his supporters proceeded along the main street on Lubas Road, towards space café, where Mao had informed journalists that he had reached an agreement with the security officials to hold a press conference. However, police officers arrived and blocked the group from proceeding, arguing that the procession was not part of the agreed terms, as they lobbied teargas and whipped protesters with sticks.

The crowd was later allowed to proceed to the venue where they held the press conference, which was however cut short, as the security officers argued that it had gone past the length of time that was agreed upon. Mao and his supporters were again dispersed as police lobbed teargas on the crowd that was chanting outside the press conference venue.

Kiira region Police Commander, Paul Nkore said they had orders from above not to permit any political rally or gathering organised at Jinja rugby ground. Although the party officials had written to the police notifying them about their intended rally, the police did not respond to the notification.

In late March 2019, it was reported that a senior lecturer at Makerere University in Kampala, Dr. Ronald Luwangula, was beaten into a coma by military police. The military police were dispersing students who had just concluded a rally at the nearby freedom square when they pounced on the lecturer who was walking to his office from class. Makerere University Academic Staff Association called for the demilitarisation of university spaces.

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.