Opposing voices and views on presidential age limit removal not tolerated


Opposition members attacked

In the early morning of 3rd October, unidentified individuals attacked the homes of two opposition members of parliament (MP) with suspected grenades just days after another opposition member, Moses Kasibante, experienced a similar incident on 27th September. Allan Ssewanya (MP for Makindye West), says one grenade was thrown into his home, while Robert Kyagulanyi (MP for Kyaddondo West), popularly known as Bobi Wine, said three grenades had exploded and smashed the window of his son’s bedroom. The MPs were among a group of 25 MPs suspended from parliament on 27th September following chaos and a brawl during a motion over the controversial removal of the presidential age limit from the constitution. In a Facebook post, Bobi Wine stated that no one had been hurt in the blast at his home, but that he had been receiving "death threats on an almost daily basis". In late October, Ugandan MPs were each given 29 million Ugandan shillings (8,000 USD) as a payout for consultations with their constituencies on the constitutional amendment, in a move decried by critics as a bribe. A similar payment was offered to legislators in 2005 when President Museveni sought to remove a constitutional two-term cap for presidents. 

NGO bank accounts frozen

On 13th October, a government official announced that all five bank accounts of the NGO ActionAid Uganda at the local branch of Standard Chartered Bank had been frozen, as instructed by the Bank of Uganda. In a 3rd October letter to the Managing Director of Standard Chartered Bank, the Bank of Uganda stated that ActionAid International Uganda is being investigated for alleged conspiracy to commit a felony and money laundering by the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID). As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, police raided ActionAid’s offices in Kampala on 19th September, confiscating computers and mobile phones. Besides ActionAid Uganda, two other NGOs are under investigation by the CID - Uhuru Institute for Social Development and the Great Lakes Institute of Strategic Studies - allegedly for funding opposition projects intended to cause unrest in the country. 

A guide for NGOs during police searches

Following the searches of NGO offices in September, local human rights organisation Chapter Four Uganda published a guide for civil society members for when they are confronted with a police search: 'Know your rights. Police searches of NGO offices: what you need to know and do.' Chapter Four also launched an online tracker for human rights violations in the country, which gathers and displays information on violations, including the date, location, alleged perpetrator and circumstances around the incidents.

An urgent appeal for TLC members

According to an urgent appeal from the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights DefendersJames Rukanpana was shot in both legs on 12th September by armed guards, hired by engineering and construction company Ferdsult Engineering Services Limited. Rukanpana, a member of Twerwaneho Listeners Club (TLC), has been advocating for the rights of local communities, and opposes the agreement with the Kabarole District Local Government Council that granted the company sole access to 20 crater lakes in the region of Rwenzori.

In addition, the Observatory's appeal includes four other TLC members - Suleiman Trader, Jackson Magezi, Fred Kyaligonza and Prosper Businge - who have been judicially harassed after they legally challenged the acquisition of the 20 crater lakes by Ferdsult Engineering Services Limited. The harassment includes criminal charges that were laid on them for "the use of explosives, electronic gadgets and the poisoning of fish", according to allegations by Ferdsult. The case is currently suspended pending an appeal procedure. 


UCC curtails social media use

On 14th September, the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) issued a public notice warning Uganda's citizens against the "irresponsible use of social and electronic communication platforms". The public notice aims to prevent “illegal and/or offensive content” on social media and warns of consequences should users fail to abide by the order. As reported previously on the Monitor, the Uganda Media Centre announced on 27th June 2017 that a department would be created to monitor social media networks, while the Daily Monitor reported on 26th July that the Chinese government, through a statutory company - China National Electronics Import & Export Corp - had agreed to offer the Ugandan government a "comprehensive cyber-security solution". The Chinese company committed to "build the capacity of Uganda Communications Commission, Police and ministry of Internal Affairs to to guard against cyber criminals". 

In a positive development on 18th September, the Lyantonde Magistrates Court acquitted Sadat Waligo, a correspondent with the newspaper Red Pepper, of criminal defamation charges. The prosecution claimed that Waligo made defamatory statements on his Facebook page against the resident district commissioner of Lyantonde.

Media workers arrested and interrogated

On 20th September, police arrested and detained five journalists covering a press conference in the Kampala suburb of Mulago Kubiri which was organised by youth activists to protest the age limit removal. They were released without charge. On 13th September, police officers assaulted and confiscated the equipment of two journalists in Kigungu Landing Site near Entebbe, as reported by the Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda. The journalists were covering the opposition Democratic Party's campaign Kogikwatako - which opposes the constitutional amendment on the presidential age limit. Police officers allegedly manhandled Ssebalamu Kigongo of Bukedde Television and assaulted Sande Ssebagala of NBS Television, resulting in a torn shirt and the confiscation of Ssebagala's camera.

On 2nd October, 230 journalists from several media houses within the informal Uganda Press Freedom Network issued a press statement denouncing the gagging of journalists over the previous weeks, as agitation has grown over the presidential age limit debate. The journalists condemned the arrests of journalists, confiscation of equipment and the UCC's order on 26th September for broadcasters to immediately refrain from showing live feeds of ongoing parliamentary debates over the age limits that turned into fistfights, as was reported previously on the Monitor.

In mid-October, the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) of the Ugandan police summoned two editors from the Red Pepper and the Daily Monitor newspapers. Both were interrogated on 16th October for three hours by the CID over their reporting on the controversial presidential age limit issue. Police summons and notices from the UCC have become the two of the main tools used to silence media during the constitutional amendment debate.

On 21st October, the UCC ordered the temporary shutdown of a privately-owned radio station, Kanungu Broadcasting Services Ltd., days after it hosted four-time presidential candidate and opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye. The UCC alleged that the station breached the minimum broadcasting standards, but gave no official reason for the two-day shutdown. 

Peaceful Assembly

Police officers killed at least one person and injured several others on 18th October when live ammunition and teargas was used to disperse a crowd of opposition supporters protesting against the removal of the constitutional age limit for presidents in the southwestern town of Rukungiri. On 10th October 2017, supporters of the ruling party - the National Resistance Movement - beat up and assaulted age limit demonstrators in Lwengo District. After the assault, attackers took the protesters to the nearby police station where they were detained. A police spokesperson said they warned the demonstrators against staging a protest without police permission, and that they are investigating the assaults of the protesters.