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Appalling Crackdown on Freedoms in Uganda Continues

Appalling Crackdown on Freedoms in Uganda Continues

29 August 2013: Public and media freedoms are increasingly under threat in Uganda, says CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

“During the last few years we have seen attacks on the media, gay rights activists, anti-corruption campaigners and now Ugandans are faced with the possibility of a draconian new law that will restrict their freedom of assembly,” said Charlotte Allan, CIVICUS Policy and Advocacy Officer.

The latest in this crackdown on fundamental freedoms is the pending Public Order Management Bill (POMB) and the secrecy surrounding it.

“Although, the restrictive POMB which seriously limits the right to assemble peacefully in public was passed on 6 August 2013 by Parliament, there is a lot of confusion regarding the exact version of the bill,” said The government has so far refused to share the version of the Bill that is due for presentation to President Museveni for his approval,” said Allan.

An analysis of the 2011 draft of the bill made available on the Ugandan Parliament’s website reveals that the Bill substantially hinders civil society activities and the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms. It criminalises peaceful demonstrations of 3 or more persons without prior approval from the Ugandan police and requires any approval to be sought at least seven days before the event. It also grants the police broad discretionary powers to permit or halt any “public meeting” considered a present or imminent danger of a breach of the peace or public order. Other negative aspects of the Bill are criminalisation of the failure to obtain an approval for holding public assemblies with punishment of up to two years imprisonment, and empowering of the police to use disproportionate force in their implementation of the law, including the use of firearms, to disperse protests.

“National and international CSOs have repeatedly expressed serious concerns about the shrinking civil society space in Uganda,” said Patrick Tumwebaze, Executive Director of the Uganda Debt Network. “If President Museveni were to give his approval to the Bill, it would follow a depressing series of backward steps by the Ugandan government in recent years including the requirement for Civil Society Organizations to register annually.”

Other areas affected include the freedom of the media. Four journalists have been murdered since 2010, the most recent being Thomas Pere whose body was found outside Kampala on 17 June 2013. In addition and as a result of their coverage of an alleged government plot to assassinate opposition politicians, two independent newspapers and their sister radio stations were closed on 20 May 2013 for a period of 10 days. Protests against the closing of affected newspaper ‘The Monitor’, led to the arrest of five human rights activists, who were beaten by riot police.

Gay rights activists and staff of civil society organisations advocating for their rights are also under intense pressure in Uganda. Against the backdrop of the yet to be passed draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill, many have faced physical attacks while senior government and political figures have incited their persecution with incendiary rhetoric.

Anti-corruption campaigners are also under attack. The Black Monday Movement, which advocates the wearing of black on Mondays to mourn large-scale corruption, experienced the arrest of two activists on Monday 7 January 2013 while distributing Black Monday newsletters during the Kampala morning traffic.

CIVICUS urges the President of Uganda’s Office to (i) make publicly available the copy of the Public Order and Management Act Bill passed by Parliament on 6 August 2013, (ii) withhold assent (approval) to the Bill on grounds of incompatibility with internationally recognised human rights standards, and (iii) hold consultations with civil society members on steps required to create an enabling environment for civil society to operate.

CIVICUS’ State of Civil Society Report 2013 documents the complicated state of donor, government and CSO relations in Uganda and the increasing threats faced by groups seeking to expose corruption.  Also included in the report is an account by the Uganda NGO Forum, a civil society umbrella body, on the challenges posed by the current regulatory framework for NGOs in the country.

ENDS

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