Government critics face continued harassment, journalists face restrictions, assault and arrest

Government critics face continued harassment, journalists face restrictions, assault and arrest

Expression

On 29th October 2021, the Media Council of Uganda released a statement reiterating the directive for all news editors to register with the council. Dr Chris Baryomunsi, the Minister for ICT and National Guidance, claimed the purpose of registration is to “facilitate the authentication of media practitioners, and to create a database of media practitioners to facilitate and enhance professionalism among media practitioners” and to comply with the Press and Journalist Act (1995). The directive was first issued on 16th August 2021 for all editors, publishers and broadcasters to register with the council within 30 days, but only a few media houses complied. Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) – Uganda called the directive illegal, as the ruling is pending following an appeal before the Supreme Court.

On 17th December 2021, security forces violently arrested three journalists while covering the district LCV chairperson by-elections in Kayunga. The police also confiscated their equipment, according to the journalists. Micheal Kakumirizi, Joy Lule and David Byansi were detained in Naggalama police station for a night and produced in court the next day. According to HRNJ - Uganda, many journalists covering the by-elections were assaulted and teargassed by security forces. HRNJU reported 17 cases of abuse and violations against journalists covering the Kayunga district by-elections.

Separately, but on the same day, 17th December 2021, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) withdrew charges against two online journalists Pidson Kareire and Magara Darious of the Drone Media and East African Watch. The state representative Peter Mugisha informed the court that "the DPP has instructed me to inform the court that she is no longer interested in the case and has decided to withdraw charges against all the accused persons." As previously reported on the Monitor, the two journalists were charged with criminal libel under section 179 of the Penal Code. They were accused of publishing defamatory claims about a Ugandan infrastructure company, Dott Services Limited on 27th May 2021.

Separately, another case involving Pidson Kareire and Mugalula Moses of the Drone Media and Bilal FM was adjourned to 18th January 2022. The two journalists were accused of publishing a story claiming that the Hon. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Anita Among is involved in corruption activities.

In other developments, on 28th December 2021, Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, an author and government critic, was arrested in his home by armed men claiming to be police officers for allegedly posting on Twitter about Museveni and his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba. He described Museveni's son as "obese" and a "curmudgeon" on Twitter. On 11th January 2022, the state Magistrates’ court charged Rukirabashaija on two counts of offensive communication under section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011. The prosecutor accused him of "wilfully and repeatedly using his Twitter handle to disturb the peace of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Uganda, Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni with no purpose of legitimate communication". Rukirabashaija was released on bail on medical grounds on 25th January 2022, after which it was reported that he fled the country in fear for his life, and also for treatment of injuries he received after being tortured while in custody.

Association

On 23rd October 2021, police officers detained six environmental activists from AFIEGO without charge. The arrests are allegedly linked to criticism of the Total energy project, resulting in ecological destruction and tens of thousands of farmers losing access to their land. AFIEGO is one of four Ugandan organisations involved in several legal cases against the oil project, including the one against TotalEnergies in France and in the East African Court of Justice. Amis de la Terre Franc (Friends of the Earth) and Survie (Survival), its French partners, called for their immediate release. According to Amis de la Terre Franc, Ugandan authorities continue to targetAFIEGO in an attempt to increase intimidation and silence their criticism. This was the fifth time that AFIEGO was targeted in October, including two occasions where police officers raided their offices. Additionally, AFIEGO was among the 54 NGOs shut down by the Ugandan authorities for “not complying” with the NGO Act.

In separate developments, ahead of his scheduled campaign for his party’s candidature in the Kayunga district chairperson by-election, on 21st December 2021, the military was deployed around the home of Robert Kyagulanyi, (popularly known as Bobi Wine). According to Bobi Wine, no one was allowed to leave or enter his house. Additionally, the security officers violently arrested Bobi Wine's security guard and gardener and confiscated their phones. President Museveni was also expected to campaign as a candidate for the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.

Peaceful Assembly

On 16th December 2021, police officers arrested 33 doctors and interns while they were attempting to petition the parliament speaker. The petition demanded that the ministry of health ensure all hospitals have personal protective equipment (PPE), pay interns at least 2.5 million Ugandan shillings (USD 694), and improve the general working conditions.

On 8th November 2021, Ugandan police spokesperson Fred Enanga stated that the security officers were ready to counter illegal protests planned by the National Unity Party (NUP) and other “violent” political groups. Police officers arrested four members of NUP, namely Bwambaale Geoffrey, Mumbere Isaac, Basisa Brian and Isande Adonozio, on charges of conspiracy to commit treason. The four were accused of “mobilising people from Ntoroko, Fort Portal Bundibogyo and Hoima to hold massive violent protests’’. Additionally, authorities also began investigating political opposition member Kiiza Besigye and Municipality MP Francis Zaake for “inciting the public to rise against the government”. According to Enanga, the political Crimes Department opened a case against the two. The NUP spokesman, Joel Ssenyonyi, refuted the claims and accused the police of “concocting intelligence for their selfish gains”.