Journalists attacked, CSO event raided by authorities

Association

Human rights defender awarded

On 6th May 2019 Ugandan human rights defender (HRD) and environmental activist William Leslie Amunzuru was awarded the European Union Human Rights Defender Award for his work as founder of Friends of Zoka, a community-based organisation which aims to end illegal logging activities in the Zoka Forest in Northern Uganda. On 4th March, as part of his campaign, Amanzuru, along with 12 fellow conservationists, led a 470 kilometer trek from Kampala to the Zoka Forest to highlight the vegetation loss to logging activities and advocate for increased environmental protections and the rehabilitation of forest lands.

Rwandans and Ugandan civil society file lawsuits following border restrictions and harassment

On 17th June 2019, several Rwandans filed a lawsuit against the Ugandan Government at the East African Court of Justice, claiming they were illegally arrested and tortured by Ugandan security agencies following border restrictions between the two neighbouring countries. A couple who were arrested on 23rd July 2018 while travelling were allegedly removed from their bus and robbed by security agents. Another person was detained in a Ugandan military intelligence ‘safe house’ on 12th July 2018, before being released on 24th April 2019. The individuals are looking to obtain remedies for bodily harm they have suffered and compensation for being dispossessed of their money.

In July 2019, it was reported that civil society organisations in Uganda had filed a case against the governments of Uganda and Rwanda over border restrictions between the two countries. The case against the two governments has been lodged at the East African Court of Justice, arguing that border closures contravene the treaty establishing the East African Community and the regional Community Market Protocol, moreover plunging border towns and women traders into poverty. Cases at the court can take years to be heard but activists hope the publicity can pressure leaders to resolve the stand-off.

As previously reported on the Monitor, tense diplomatic relations between the two countries led to border restrictions, as Rwanda deployed its soldiers to the border.

Opposition party leader Bobi Wine speaks to human rights defenders

In June 2019, opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, addressed human rights defenders and politicians at the International Global Peace and Human Rights Summit in Chicago, USA. At the event, he stressed that the national human rights situation in Uganda is getting worse. Several activists have blamed the deteriorating human rights situation, including illegal detentions and torture, on government security agencies.

Government ordered to compensate family of tortured man

In early July 2019, a court ordered the government to pay USD 6,700 in compensation to Joyce Bikyahaga Namata, the mother of a man who was killed in police custody in 2007. Ronald Bikyahaga died after being tortured at the Nabbingo Police Post after he was picked up at a film hall and dragged into police cells, where he was found dead the following morning. However, questions remain over government compliance in compensating victims - an auditor general’s report for the year ending June 2018 indicates the government owes $176 million in court awards.

Parliament passes law to abolish death penalty

In August 2019, Parliament passed a law abolishing the mandatory death penalty for certain crimes, amending four different laws that had earlier prescribed capital punishment, including the Anti-Terrorism Act. If approved by President Yoweri Museveni, the amendments will restrict the death penalty to just the most serious of crimes, and only at the judge's discretion.

Assets of former inspector general frozen over human rights violations

In mid-September 2019, the former inspector general of police Gen. Kale Kayihura and his immediate family members had their U.S. assets frozen amid accusations of serious human rights violations. According to a statement by the US Treasury Department, Kayihura is accused of being the leader of a police force that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse against Ugandan citizens, as well as for his involvement in corruption. Opposition leaders and rights activists welcomed the decision.

LGBT activists demand end to HIV criminal laws

LGBT rights activists in Uganda joined health rights defenders and people living with HIV to demand an end to the country’s HIV criminal laws such as the 2014 HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act. At the centre of contention are clauses in the HIV Act that allow mandatory testing and disclosure of people’s HIV status and that criminalise the intentional spread of HIV, which they argue adds to stigma and discrimination.

Peaceful Assembly

IDAHOT event raided by authorities

On 17th May 2019, 10 police officers raided an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) event at the offices of Chapter Four Uganda, an organisation which promotes the civil and political rights of marginalised and sexual minorities. The officers who demanded the cancellation of the event and locked office doors to ensure nobody could enter, stated that they were working under the authority of Minister of State for Ethics & Integrity Simon Lokodo, who has previously sent police to disrupt the proceedings of 6 other LGBT+ events. Attendees relocated remaining guests to the home of Ugandan LGBT+ activist Claire Byarugaba where they continued with their programme and celebrations for the day.

Coalition of HRDs protest abuses

On 27th June 2019 the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda held a press conference condemning the abuses experienced by HRDs in the country. The conference commented on issues such as increased surveillance and the stifling of press freedoms and restrictions to freedom of expression, often on HRDs. The panel also discussed attacks on HRDs fighting for LGBT+ rights, as well as HRDs working on land rights in communities with extractive industries. The press statement read in part:

“We continue to note with concern the unabated break-ins at offices of NGOs/HRDs. Equally, we are drawn to the worrying clampdown on the legitimate assemblies of HRDs… The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders takes particular exception to the continued attacks towards journalists”.

Expression

Journalists face attacks in line of duty

In late April 2019, Fred Waninda, the acting Commercial Court Registrar in charge of planning, performance and development allegedly assaulted Smart 24 journalist Hannington Kisakye for recording him while exiting a court where he testified on a land grabbing case. According to Kisakye, Waninda also damaged his camera’s lens, and although he immediately went to the Central Police Station in Kampala to report the assault, the police officers declined to record the complaint. A cell phone video which made rounds on social media shows the alleged assault.

In mid-June 2019, the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) reported that Choice FM journalist Geoffry Okot was punched in the neck by Aruu County MP Odongo Otto during a football match. Journalist Willy Ochwoo claimed that while covering a football match between West Nile and Acholi Province, “out of nowhere”, Otto began hitting Okot in the back and neck. Okot filed a police report at Gulu central police station.

In a statement where they condemned the attack on the journalist, NUMEC stated:

“Threats against journalists, whether physical or otherwise, undermine the ability of journalists to collect, process and disseminate timely information critical for informed choice by the public”.

According to the Uganda Human Rights Network for Journalists, Ochwoo tried to explain that Okot was a journalist but the member of parliament continued punching him.

On 15th July 2019, Bukede Television journalist Godfrey Katongole was admitted to hospital in critical condition after allegedly being assaulted by a mob, including other journalists working with Salt Media , while covering a demonstration by women activists who were protesting the use of derogatory language by Pastor Aloysius Bugingo against his estranged wife. Pastor Bugingo owns Salt Media. In the process, Katongole lost his video camera, phones and bag.

Journalist receives human rights award

In a positive development, visual artist Collin Sekajugo received the third annual Human Rights Award at the Human Rights Convention on 11th May 2019 in Kampala. Sekajugo was recognised for his brave creative work that has captured contemporary human rights concerns and illustrates the need for social change.

Journalist charged with criminal libel

On 14th June 2019, Drone Media journalist Pidson Kareire was charged with criminal libel and offensive communication under the Penal Code Act and the Computer Misuse Act in a suit filed by export company Middle East Consultants Limited. The charges relate to an article he posted on the Drone Media website which claimed the company was extorting money from job seekers. Kareire denied the allegations and was released on bail. The law on criminal defamation is being challenged by the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) at the East African Court of Justice for being in violation of the principles of the East African Community Treaty.

Investigations link government to spying on opposition members

In August 2019, it was reported by a Wall Street Journal investigation that technicians from the Chinese tech giant Huawei were embedded with national cyber security forces to help intercept cell phone data to spy on political opponents. According to the report, Huawei engineers assisted Ugandan authorities to hack the WhatsApp and Skype accounts of the popular musician and opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi, more popularly known as Bobi Wine. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Bobi Wine, a fierce critic of President Yoweri Museveni's leadership, has endured arrests, detention and alleged torture, and criminal charges because of his vocal criticism of the government.