Civil society organisations targetted through break-ins
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an umbrella organisation for groups working on LGBTI issues in Uganda, challenged the decision of the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) in the High Court for refusing to reserve the name “SMUG”, and subsequently refusing to register the organisation. The case was filed on 1 June 2016. Since 2012, URSB has consistently refused to reserve the name “SMUG” citing section 36 of the Companies Act (2012), which allows the registrar to reject an application to reserve a company name if “in his opinion the name is undesirable.” The refusal to register SMUG hampers its operations in Uganda.
On 22 May 2016, unidentified men broke into the offices of Human Rights Awareness and Protection Forum (HRAPF), an organisation supporting sexual and gender minorities in Uganda. The security guard was beaten to death, offices ransacked and documents and a television screen taken. This is the 3rd break-in in 2016: the offices of the Forum for African Women Educationists (FAWE) were broken into on 24 May and those of the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U) broken into on 10 April 2016.
Despite timely reports to the police about the break-ins, the Uganda Police Force has failed to investigate the incidents and ensure that the perpetrators are tried in accordance with the law. In addition, there have not been any updates from the police on the status of the past and present break-ins.
The Public Order Management Act (2013), which imposes wide-ranging restrictions on public meetings, continues to be selectively applied against political activists and members of the opposition, as witnessed during the February 2016 election period. The police’s use of tear gas, rubber bullets, brutality, and arrests during gatherings organised by the opposition has perpetuated the clampdown on freedom of peaceful assembly.
During the February 2016 election period, the space for freedom of expression significantly worsened. On 12 May, social media platforms were temporarily banned ahead of the swearing in ceremony of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, citing security concerns. Social media was also shut down for 3 days during the 18 February polls.
On 4 May, the Minister of Information and National Guidance Jim Muhwezi announced the Government’s decision to ban live media coverage of opposition activities and threatened to close down any media houses that broadcast the “defiance campaign”, spearheaded by Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) former presidential candidate Kiiza Besigye.
The Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda is concerned that the Uganda Police Force is using criminal defamation to target journalists that report on critical or contentious issues. The Criminal Investigative Department (CID) interrogated Alex Atuhaire, Associate Editor of Daily Monitor newspaper over an article published on 5 April on killings in the Rwenzori sub-region in Western Uganda . Atuhaire is the second journalist to be summoned by the CID over the same story. Yasin Mugerwa, a senior political reporter, was also detained by the CID a few days before Atuhaire was interrogated. He was later released on bond on condition that he reports to the police every 2 weeks.
On 9 March 2016, the government tabled the Uganda Communications Amendment bill (2016), seeking to amend Section 93(1) of the Uganda Communications Act (2013), and remove the requirement for Parliament approval of regulations made by the Minister under the Act. This amendment would give the Executive overarching powers to control the right to freedom of expression, at a time when online and offline speech are already being subjected to undue restrictions.