Tightening restrictions on freedom of speech ahead of presidential election

Association

Violence was reported in relation to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party’s primaries which took place throughout September 2020. On 5th September 2020, the former Deputy Attorney General and current Labour Minister, Mwesigwa Rukutana, was arrested after shooting at the vehicle of a supporter of his opponent and injuring the supporter. He was later released on bail, with his case set to resume in November 2020. Concerns have been expressed that the violence during the primary elections may be an indication of what could be expected during the pending national elections, scheduled for February 2021.

Still within the context of the upcoming elections, in early August 2020, a criminal summons was issued against aspiring presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine), over charges of giving false information to the electoral commission about his age. The summons was in response to an application filed by a lawyer seeking to privately prosecute the musician-turned-politician. In his application, Mr Mabirizi alleged that Kyagulanyi’s academic transcripts indicate a different date from the one on the politician's passport and on the form he submitted to the electoral commission in 2017 when he was nominated to contest a parliamentary seat.

In separate developments, a recently released report by Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum together with Tranz Network Uganda, details the legal and policy environment that affects access to justice for transgender persons in Uganda. It was found that there is a situation of ‘legal invisibility’ for trans persons, and that they suffer violations of their rights as well as discrimination at the family, community and institutional levels.

In a more progressive move for the LGBTIQ+ community, on 20th August 2020, it was announced that two of the officials involved in the raid on an LGBTIQ+ shelter in Kampala, Uganda were facing charges in relation to the attack, which was previously reported on the Monitor

Peaceful Assembly

On 17th September 2020, police fired rubber bullets and teargas on youth who were protesting in Kampala. It is reported that they were protesting in support of Kyagulanyi’s National Unity Party (NUP). The protesters, who blocked the Old Kira Road with logs and burning tyres, demanded the arrest of music promoter Charles Orema alias Sipapa in connection to two incidents of shooting in August and September 2020 at the NUP offices in Kamwokya, Kampala. At least 20 protesters were arrested and charged for holding an illegal procession.

Expression

Draft regulations announced in late August 2020 by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development will require comedy performers to sign a code of ethics and have their scripts approved by a committee. This follows the recent arrest of four comedians who criticised the government, as previously reported on the Monitor. While the regulations are proposed to regulate the industry, concerns have been voiced that they could be misused to stifle free expression.

Similarly, on 7th September 2020, the Ugandan Communications Commission issued a public notice stating that anyone wishing to publish information online needs to be issued with a license before 5th October 2020. This will mostly affect online users, such as bloggers, who are paid for published content. Concerns have been raised as public gatherings are currently restricted in Uganda due to COVID-19 prevention measures, leaving media and online campaigning as the only allowed methods of campaigning ahead of the 2021 elections.

In a separate incident, on 26th September 2020, a High Court in Mbale further adjourned the case filed by Kyagulanyi concerning him being blocked by police from attending a talk show on a radio station in Mbale. The magistrate pushed the case to 26th October citing Kyagulanyi’s non-appearance in court. The case is in relation to an incident that occurred on 9th August 2020 where at least nine people were arrested as police fired teargas and bullets to disperse Kyagulanyi’s supporters in Mbale, in a bid to block him from appearing on a radio talk show at BCU FM.