Journalists denied access to police courts

Expression

Journalists denied access to courts and assaulted

On 19th April 2018, Ugandan journalists were denied access to a police court that was expected to hand down a ruling on charges against former Buyende District Police Commander Muhammad Kirumira. He was charged with unlawful arrests and excessive use of authority in 2013 and 2014 and subsequently demoted. Counter-terrorism police were deployed at all entrances to the court. 

On 22nd February, police also blocked journalists from covering court proceedings in the same case, during which time a reporter with Bukedde newspaper was allegedly assaulted. When asked about the decision to block journalists' access, a police spokesperson defended the decision, saying that the media coverage was “causing excitement on the side of the defendant".

In response to these incidents, Ugandan journalists announced that they would consider boycotting cases with a police presence, as a form of protest.

Court declines to dismiss charges against activist

In March 2018, Chief Magistrate James Eremye Mawanda declined human rights activist Stella Nyanzi's petition to dismiss the criminal charges against her.

Ugandan academic and feminist activist Stella Nyanzi was charged in March 2017 under the Computer Misuse Act based on her social media statements, including one where she referred to President Yoweri Museveni as “a pair of buttocks”. She denies any wrongdoing and was released on bail on 10th May 2017.

In October 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found her detention to be arbitrary on the basis that her initial arrest and detention lacked a legal justification and that there were violations of the right to a fair trial. 

There are also fears that she could be sent to a psychiatric ward as the state has also made a request to ascertain her mental condition under the Mental Treatment Act. Nyazi filed a petition in May 2017 with the Constitutional Court challenging the provisions of the Mental Treatment Act under which the prosecution sought a mental health examination.

Nyanzi remains indefinitely suspended from her position at Makerere University because of the ongoing criminal charges against her.

Authorities drop charges against musician

On 13th April, the authorities dropped charges of “disturbing the peace of the president and offensive communication” against the artist David Mugema and producer John Muwanguzi. The charged had been made initially over a song they had written called "Mzei Wumula", which translates to "Old man take a break". 

The song allegedly calls for President Yoweri Museveni to retire. Prosecutors had asserted that the song "attacked and disturbed the peace" of Museveni, who has been in power for more than three decades.

Proposed taxation on social media use

In a letter to the Minister of Finance dated 12th March 2018, President Yoweri Museveni announced a planned daily tax of 200 Ugandan shillings (approximately 0.05 USD) for using social media channels on mobile devices. The tax would supposedly keep users from “rumour mongering”.

While Finance Minister Matia Kasaija defended the plan as a way to raise much-needed revenue, human rights activists have denounced it as part of wider attempt to curtail freedom of expression. Ugandan authorities blocked access to social media channels twice during the 2016 electoral cycle.