The amnesty international body has broke its silence on the impending terror attacks meted out on the citizens of the Republic of Uganda by the armed forces of the incumbent government led by Gen. Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni.
In a report published on December, 9, Amnesty International tasked the government of Uganda to rein in the elections violence and apprehend some of the culprits in the forces who presided over and commandered the killings which ensued on November, 18 when supporters of NUP presidential candidate Kyagulanyi Ssentamu Robert aka Bobi Wine contested his arrest.
In its findings, Amnesty stresses that the covid pandemic is being used as a tool of repression against the opposition politicians, activists and journalists.
COVID-19 pandemic used as a pretext for repression
While many opposition presidential candidates have been subjected to some form of police violence on the campaign trail the worst of it appears to be targeted at Robert Kyagulanyi and supporters of his NUP party. They have been shot at, teargassed, beaten and arbitrarily detained, besides being repeatedly denied access to tarmacked roads, public grounds and hotels in many parts of the country.
On 1 December, police fired shots into Kyagulanyi’s car, prompting him to briefly suspend his campaign. He has now taken to wearing a hard hat and bullet proof vest since he returned to the campaign trail.
The authorities have justified the use of force as necessary to ensure compliance with measures to contain COVID-19. However, there is evidence Ugandan law is being used disproportionately to restrict opposition gatherings.
“While it is reasonable that the Ugandan authorities, like others elsewhere around the world, should take measure to halt the further spread of COVID-19, it is apparent that in Uganda, COVID-19 regulations have been weaponized and disproportionately applied to the opposition as pretext for political repression and to restrict their activities, and their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Deprose Muchena.
Amnesty International has noted many instances when supporters of the ruling NRM, unlike those of NUP and other parties, have gathered in large crowds unhindered by police. During the last elections in 2016, police used the Public Order Management Act (POMA), a law that gave police excessive powers to prohibit public gatherings and protests, to disperse opposition rallies in a selective and partisan manner. On 26 March 2020, the Constitutional Court declared the section that gave police these overbroad powers illegal and unconstitutional.
Besides the high levels of violence by the police and other security forces, Amnesty International is concerned by the threatening rhetoric from senior government officials. Security Minister Gen Elly Tumwine said in Kampala in the aftermath of the police killings that: “Police has a right to shoot you and kill you if you reach a certain level of violence. Can I repeat? Police has a right or any security agency if you reach a certain level, they have a right.”
For his part, President Museveni, speaking at a political rally in Kotido town, northern Uganda, warned people against protesting, saying they would be “crushed”. He has also increasingly taken to anti-LGBTI rhetoric, which is deeply concerning given Uganda’s history of attacks on gay people. “Some of these groups are being used by outsiders; the homosexuals and other groups outside there who don’t like the stability and independence of Uganda. But they will discover what they are looking for,” he said in Kotido.
Attacks on journalists
Amnesty International is also concerned about growing intimidation, harassment and attacks on journalists in the lead up to elections.
Human Rights Network for Journalists (HNRJ) Uganda has reported over 100 cases of human rights violations against journalists, including cases of police violence, especially when they are out covering political candidates. It says journalists have been teargassed, even when in branded cars showing the media outlets they work for.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of Uganda has reported at least three incidents of police attacks on its members. The association, which brings together foreign journalists and Ugandan journalists working for foreign media, reported that on 3 November, an international journalist was pepper-sprayed in the face by a police officer. Two days later, a Ugandan journalist working for international media was shot in the face by a policeman; and on 1 December, a foreign journalist was targeted and shot at close range with a rubber bullet.
More recently on 10 December, the Media Council cancelled the accreditation of all foreign journalists and directed them to apply for and obtain a “Special Media Pass” by 31 December. All media outlets and media workers in Uganda are also required to apply afresh for accreditation before 31 December.
On 27 November, three foreign journalists were arrested and deported despite having been duly accredited by the Media Council ahead of their entry into the country.
Journalists in Uganda are facing an unprecedent level of violence and restrictions covering this election campaign where previously the authorities had allowed international media scrutiny. This intimidation, harassment and violence on journalists must stop.
“Journalists in Uganda are facing an unprecedent level of violence and restrictions covering this election campaign where previously the authorities had allowed international media scrutiny. This intimidation, harassment and violence on journalists must stop,” said Deprose Muchena.
“With a month to go to the polls, it is not too late for the Ugandan authorities to turn the tide and ensure respect for the human rights of everyone. Neither is it too late for the region, continent and the international community at large to speak out on the ongoing repression and crackdown on human rights in Uganda, and to push for the government to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of its own people.”