Over 12000 NGOs ordered to stop operations, LGBTIQ community face increasing attacks

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NGOs denied registration

More than 12,000 charities were ordered to stop their operations in November 2019, until they comply with new regulations. The Ugandan government issued its directive after discovering fewer than 4,000 charities out of 14,000 had valid permits. This followed a review of NGOs that was done by government between August and September 2019 which reduced the number of registered NGOs from 14,207 to 2,118. The government justified the exercise, saying its intention was to weed out entities carrying out “unscrupulous operations” and to make sure unregistered charities are not involved in money laundering. Some of the information the NGOs were expected to share with the government during the review exercise included information about sources of funding, board and staff members.

Some political observers however believe it is a crackdown on groups that have been critical of the government. Most of those affected were local NGOs, as the government also ordered banks not to open accounts for unregistered groups.

Dr Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative said:

“The exercise is legitimate, but it creates a lot of pressure on the part of the NGOs. It has [a] restraining effect and you have to look over your shoulder in terms of how critical you are. You have to exercise some degree of restraint. It has a chilling effect on the ability to widen the parameters of democracy and good governance.”

Among those denied registration was Sexual Minorities Uganda, and other organisations that campaign for LGBTIQ rights.

Concern over increasing attacks against LGBTIQ community

Meanwhile, attacks on the LGBTIQ community in Uganda intensified in recent months.

On 4th October 2019, Brian Wasswa, a paralegal and LGBTIQ community member, was brutally attacked in his home by unknown people who hacked him on the head. Wasswa succumbed to his injuries the following day in hospital.

In a press statement reacting to the murder, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, Dr. Frank Mugisha said:

When politicians and members of parliament call for criminalisation, like the recent calls for the reintroduction of the “anti-gay” law, they are responsible for the increase in the vulnerability of the LGBTI community… We have continued to register increased incidents of violence, harassment and social exclusion of the LGBTI community.”

On 24th October, 16 Ugandan LGBTI9Q activists were subjected to forced anal examinations after being arrested. The men had been taken into custody by the police to protect them from a mob that had surrounded their house when they were later arrested and charged. 

On 10th November, police arrested 120 people at an LGBTIQ friendly bar in Kampala, accusing them of "frequenting a smoking place." The patrons were later charged in court with "being a common nuisance," but LGBTIQ advocates maintained that the charges were overly broad, and that the arrests are emblematic of an increasingly threatening environment for them. The police insisted that they did not target them because of their sexuality.

On 17th November, Human Rights Watch called on the Ugandan police to stop the harassment of LGBTIQ people in the country and to drop charges against dozens of people arrested over the previous month on the basis of their presumed sexual orientation or gender identity.

Opposition party leader arrested and detained as party is denied stadium access

In a separate incident, police detained opposition leader and former president of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Kizza Besigye, on 4th November after they blocked the Mandela National Stadium in Namboole, Wakiso District where the party intended to hold their weekly press conference. Besigye was arrested as he was driving back to Najjanankumbi, where the party’s headquarters are based, as a procession of his supporters followed behind him. The police accused him of "parking his vehicle in the middle of the road" and "inconveniencing other road users" in Kampala. Police smashed the windscreen of his car, dragged him out and arrested him, while a video shows Besigye being struck by a high pressure water cannon fired from a police vehicle. He was released the following day.

Peaceful Assembly

On 4th November 2019, police fired tear gas at journalists protesting against police abuse in Kampala. The journalists hoped to march to the police headquarters to deliver a petition but were blocked and attacked with tear gas. Eight journalists were arrested but later released. The demonstrations followed thearrest of several journalists at Makerere University on 25th October 2019, who were reporting on student protests over a 15% rise in tuition fees. In a statement on 4th November, Human Rights Watch called for investigations and accountability for the police and military crackdown on students and journalists.

Expression

The Bank of Uganda governor criticised a trend where people write political messages on banknotes and share them on social media, saying it was disrespectful and illegal as it destroyed their value and security features. Handwritten messages of support on currency notes for both Bobi Wine and President Museveni were shared online.

On 20th November 2019, more than ten security operatives stormed and ransacked the office of the opposition FDC party in Kasese District, South Western Uganda. The officers confiscated smart phones and a memory card belonging to the FDC Chairperson of Kasese District, Saul Matte, and a journalist, Eric Mwesigye, who was at the party’s office interviewing Mr. Matte Saul about the party’s campaign to petition the International Criminal Court (ICC).