Museveni signs controversial bill as crackdown on civic space continues
On 2nd January 2018, President Yoweri Museveni signed a controversial bill - the Constitutional Amendment Act - that removes the constitutional presidential age limit of 75 years, thereby allowing Museveni to run in the next presidential election. As previously reported on the Monitor, the plans to amend the constitution to remove the age limit sparked citizen protests and a harsh state crackdown on dissent that resulted in arbitrary arrests, raids on NGOs, attacks on opposition members, and a physical confrontation between MPs in parliament. In January, the Uganda Law Society petitioned the Constitutional Court to annul the 2018 Constitutional Amendment Act.
On 16th December 2017, woman human rights defender Arinaitwe Scovia with Solidarity Uganda was arrested in Nagalama, Mukono district, during a training on behalf of Rhize. Police beat Scovia during her detention, and she was hospitalised on 18th December. Scovia was arrested along with 15 other youth activists when police officers from a unit known as the “Flying Squad” raided offices in Kampala, allegedly detaining them for more than 48 hours without food or water. Scovia and the youth activists had opposed President Museveni’s Constitutional Amendment Bill.
On 25th December, the Bank of Uganda unfroze the five bank accounts of ActionAid Uganda after months of uncertainty for the organisation. As previously reported on the Monitor, police raided ActionAid’s offices in Kampala on 19th September 2017, confiscating computers and mobile phones, and the government later instructed the Bank of Uganda to freeze the organisation's bank accounts. ActionAid Uganda was accused of conspiracy to commit a felony and money laundering.
Police arrested Kizza Besigye, four-time presidential candidate from the opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), again on 14th November 2017 after police and security forces prevented a rally near Kampala, where he was expected to speak. Police used tear gas and live bullets to disperse the protesters.
On 27th November 2017, police officers shot one person and arrested six others in Kasese district as citizens planned to gather and commemorate the 2016 raid on the palace of Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere by the Uganda People's Defence Force, which left more than 150 people dead.
Authorities arrested singer David Mugema and producer John Muwanguzi on 5th December 2017 on charges of disturbing the peace of President Museveni for composing and disseminating the song "Wumula" (Retire). The song does not mention the name of the president, but the video shows pictures of Museveni and pictures of deposed leaders, such as Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussain, as well as photos of protests. The two musicians were released on 7th December on bail.
On 21st November 2017, authorities raided the offices of local tabloid newspaper Red Pepper in Kampala and arrested three editors, the CEO, and four senior managers of the newspaper, charging them for seven counts, including publication of information prejudicial to national security, libel and offensive communication. The charges are in connection with a Red Pepper front-page story on 20th November 2017 claiming that President Museveni was planning to oust Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. Police confiscated computers and mobile phones during the raid, and several managers’ homes were also searched, according to a statement to Reuters. The eight were held for nearly a month and finally released on bail on 19th December, though their offices remain closed. While investigations continue, Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda has petitioned the Minister of Internal Affairs over the continued closure and trial of the eight media workers.
On 6th November 2017, Kampala City Hall Magistrate’s Court released journalists Stanley Ndawula and Robert Ndawula with the online news site "The Investigator" on bail after they had spent seven days in police custody. The journalists are accused of criminal libel and offensive communication under the controversial Computer Misuse Act (2011). The accusations are in connection with a story they published on social media claiming that police chief Gen. Kale Kayihura was under arrest with his home cordoned off by the army, according to the Human Rights Network for Journalists- Uganda.