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Uganda

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The Ugandan government has been considering amending the Constitution to remove presidential age limits through a private member’s bill in parliament, which would allow President Yoweri Museveni to stand again in the 2021 election for a sixth term. The proposed constitutional amendment would be the second major change to Uganda’s 20-year-old constitution to favour Museveni’s continued stay in power – a 2005 amendment removed term limits after his two elective terms. The proposed amendment has sparked public debate and protests among the general public, university students, and opposition members. Civil society has come under increasing attack for activities perceived as being in opposition to the amendment – three NGOs were raided by police, while many others are now being investigated by the NGO Bureau and were asked on 15 October to turn over financial information.[1]

[1] CIVICUS, “Joint Statement: Grave concern over recent raids on Ugandan civil society groups,” 10 October 2017, http://civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/2974-joint-statement-grave-concern-over-recent-raids-on-ugandan-civil-society-groups, Accessed 20 October 2017.

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Freedom of Association

A United States district court ruled on 5 June 2017 that Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG)’s case against U.S.-based anti-gay activist Scott Lively be dismissed. While Lively’s “crackpot bigotry” is largely ignored in Western countries, his campaign against the LGBT community found a home in Uganda, where his radical views were readily adopted by many, including lawmakers.[1] The court explained that it’s ruling was on the issue of whether Lively’s actions on American soil in pursuit of his campaign in Uganda were sufficient to bestow a U.S. court jurisdiction to hold him accountable, which they were not. In a key passage, the court made clear that “anyone reading this memorandum should make no mistake. The question before the court is not whether the defendant’s actions in aiding and abetting efforts to demonise, intimidate, and injure LGBTI people in Uganda constitute violations of international law. They do.”[2]

On the evening of 23 June 2017, Irumba Erasmus, coordinator of the Twerwaneho Listeners’ Club (TLC) activities in Rwebisengo District, and his friend Vide Kanyoro were extra-judicially murdered by officers of the Uganda Police Force and Uganda People’s Defence Forces after a scuffle. Security forces allege that the two had been attempting to buy 25 million Uganda Shillings ($6,931 US) worth of military ammunition. Irumba had recently been investigating two high-profile corruption cases, although it is unclear if his killing was related to his work. TLC believes that Irumba was killed to prevent him from revealing incriminating information against the officials involved, either obtained during the altercation or beforehand. Four other TLC staff members are currently facing spurious charges related to the possession of explosive devices and poison brought against them in connection with a land dispute. The officers in question have been formally charged with the murders.[3]

On 20 September 2017, police and state security officials stormed Action Aid Uganda’s head office in Kansanga, Kampala. All staff in the office at the time were prevented from leaving, as the police thoroughly searched the premises, went through documents, and confiscated some staff members’ cellphones and laptops.[4] The Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLiSS) offices in Kampala were also raided and cordoned off by police officers, while GLiSS Executive Director Godber Tumushabe was not allowed to leave the premises.[5] On 2 October, police raided the offices of the UHURU Institute, during which they cordoned off the premises and confiscated computers and phones belonging to staff.[6]

The ruling National Resistance Movement party planned to initiate a parliamentary debate on the constitutional amendment on 21 September 2017; however, chaos in the parliament ensued. The government’s decision to surround the building with security forces ahead of the debate also sparked outrage, with many MPs being frisked and all but denied access to parliament by heavily armed security officers.[7] As a result, the bill was postponed and supposed to be introduced for parliamentary debate on 26 September, but chaos again erupted in the House when the Speaker allowed the motion, while MPs accused each other of having weapons and others threw chairs and threatened to exchange punches. The motion was again postponed.

More violence erupted in the House the very next day on 27 September, as members of the Special Forces Command stormed the building to physically evict 25 MPs who were suspended from their roles by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. Members used microphone stands, chairs, and fists to protect their suspended colleagues, some of whom were violently dragged out of the chamber. Kadaga then suspended House business with heavy military and police presence around the government building.

Freedom of Expression

On 4 May 2017, the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda released a report entitled “Tough Times: Political Intolerance Stifles Media” which detailed 135 violations and deplorable conduct of state agencies throughout 2016. The report also outlined the various Ugandan laws used to prosecute journalists, and violent incidents against media throughout the year. In this report, Ugandan police topped the list of violators of journalists’ rights, with 83 recorded violations accounting for 61% of the 2016 total.[8]

On 3 May 2017, World Press Freedom Day, Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson Emilian Kayima told journalists to stop putting up fights whenever they are under investigation or arrested by police. “When we come to investigate you or even to arrest you, do not put up a fight. The fight ought to be in the right place, and that is the courts of law,” he said.[9] On the same day, journalists were arrested by the police and kept in cells for trying to organise parallel activities to those of their association, the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA). The arrested journalists included: Moses Bayola, Secretary General the UJA, his deputy Dan Mukisa, Issa Kigongo, a reporter with Bilal Radio, Jonathan Tusingwire from Pearl FM, Issa Nakabale from Urban TV, Philip Onyango from Mama FM and Ronald Kabuye, Metro FM. They were arrested in Kampala as they matched to their intended venue for the day’s celebrations. Emilian Kayima, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson stated that the journalists were arrested because they didn’t give police prior notification about their procession.[10]

On 29 May 2017, Radio Hoima in Western Uganda was switched back on air by the Uganda Communications Commission after paying a fine of two million shillings ($550 US). The radio was arbitrarily switched off for three days after allegedly broadcasting sectarian statements, a claim it denies.[11]

On 8 June 2017, courts dismissed the case against Mungu Richard Jakisa, a Radio North journalist in Lira District in Northern Uganda. Prosecutors alleged that on 13 February 2016, Mungu and four others defaced President Museveni’s electoral posters ahead of the election. That same night, Mungu had been moderating a broadcast with four politicians analysing the presidential candidates’ debate when police officers raided the radio station, arrested them, and detained them for four nights before releasing them on bail.[12]

A group of Uganda Peoples Defence Forces and plain-clothed men attacked NBS Television journalists Sabiti Joseph, Stephen Musoke, and Bonny Ojok on 12 June, ordering them to delete footage of the arrest of the locals in Pabbo subcounty, Amuru District. It is alleged that the police officers did not want the journalists to expose the violent arrests of local youths.[13]

On June 20 2017, the editor of the Red Pepper tabloid, Ben Byarabaha, was questioned by the Uganda Police media crimes unit over alleged “offensive communication” for publishing stories about the health of the Inspector General of Police, General Kale Kayihura. Byarabaha was interrogated for six hours by the Assistant Commissioner of Media Crimes, Emmanuel Mbonimpa. Charges of “offensive communication” were preferred against him under the Computer Misuse Act, and Byarabaha said police had further questioned him on his sources for the story but he did not reveal them.[14]

The Uganda Media Centre, the media regulatory authority appointed by the president, announced on 27 June 2017 that a team of state security officers and IT experts has been set up to scan profiles on Facebook and other social networks in order to find posts critical of the government and the nation.[15]

On late June 2017, the Uganda Media Council banned the Dutch film ‘The Dinner Club’ saying it “depicts and glorifies homosexuality.” The council noted extensive moral objections to the film, and listed four scenes where homosexuality is positively shown and quoted from a scene in which heterosexual marriage is disparaged.[16]

On 13 July 2017, Uganda’s Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura warned that he will not allow politicians to take the debate over the controversial presidential age limit to universities and villages, citing reports that opposition leaders had been inciting youth and university students to cause confusion about the age limit bill. “Age limit debate is strictly in parliament, but not in schools or villages. It is supposed to be debated in parliament and should be among MPs,” he said.[17]

On 24 August 2017, police officers at Katwe Police Station threw stones at five journalists covering a fire at the staff quarters of that same police station.  The journalists who were attacked are Nassaka Joweria with Kingdom TV, Ivan Mbadhi of BBS TV, Rachel Mabala a writer for the Daily Monitor, Carol Nakibule with Delta TV, and Muhumuza Julius of Dream TV.[18]

In the lead-up to the parliamentary discussion on the constitutional amendment, several journalists were arrested, harassed, and assaulted. On 13 September 2017, police officers assaulted and confiscated the equipment of journalists in Entebbe covering the opposition party’s campaign against the age limit amendment. Ssebalamu Kigongo of Bukedde TV station was manhandled by security forces, and Sande Ssebagala of NBS TV was assaulted, his shirt torn, and his camera confiscated.[19]

Police also arrested and detained five journalists on 20 September 2017 who were covering a press conference organised by youth activists, including Akatuhurira Nelson and Livingstone Matovu of B24 TV, Bulegeya Ronnie of Dream Television, Kyambadde Lawrence of Salt Media, and Titus Jjemba of BBS TV.[20]

Four journalists covering the protests on 26 September 2017 were also arrested: Denis Engena with NBSTV, freelance journalist Martin Ongom, Robert Kalibongo, and Isaac Otwii, a freelance journalist with the Daily Monitor.[21]

After brawls in parliament drew international attention in late September 2017, the Uganda Communications Commission issued a statement warning radio and TV stations against broadcasting live content that “promotes a culture of violence among the public,” saying it would take action against anyone violating broadcasting guidelines by suspending or revoking broadcasting licences.[22] On 26 September, the UCC ordered broadcasters, especially television stations, to immediately stop and refrain from broadcasting live feeds of ongoing debates in Parliament over the age limits that wound up in fistfights. The Commission claimed such broadcasts were in contravention of Section 31 of the Uganda Communications Act (2013). In response, 230 journalists under their umbrella body ‘Uganda Press Freedom Network’ issued a statement expressing their dismay with the conduct of the UCC on 2 October.[23] On 5 October, the UCC lifted the ban.[24]

Attempts are being made to enact laws that further criminalise, or threaten to curtail freedom of expression. The Uganda Communications Amendment Bill 2016 (UCA Amendment Bill), signed in April 2017, remove the involvement of Parliament in the approval of regulations on the media and communications industry. The amendment poses a serious threat to freedom of expression and media in particular.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

On 29 June 2017, police backed by armed Uganda People’s Defence Forces fired live bullets in the air to disperse angry opposition supporters chasing after a car believed to be transporting pre-ticked ballot papers from Kasangati Resort Center. Opposition supporters had earlier mounted a siege on the premises accusing ruling officials of using the facility as a base for election rigging activities.[25]

The police on 7 July 2017 detained three men for staging a mock funeral for President Museveni, parading a coffin in the south-western city of Mbarara in protest of plans to remove the presidential age limit.[26] On 18 July police in Kampala arrested two people accused of burning tires and T-shirts with President Museveni’s picture on it in protest over the proposed amendment.[27]

On 19 July 2017, Uganda police announced the arrest of 56 people, the majority of whom are opposition party members, for “holding unlawful assemblies.”[28] On 20 July, police then arrested Democratic Party President Nobert Mao, Secretary General Gerald Siranda and Hakim Kizza, after they met to launch the anti-amendment campaign at the party’s main office. The group was planning to hold a demonstration as part of the campaign, when they were taken to the central police station. All were later released from police custody.[29]

The authorities banned any anti-amendment protests (#agelimitug and #agelimit) on 21 September 2017. In a statement justifying the ban, Police Chief Kale Kayihura claimed that “the planned protest was intended to cause violence and mayhem”, and instead Kayihura urged demonstrators to use “indoor meetings” to express their opinions.[30]

Hundreds of students at Makerere University who had planned a march to the Parliament to deliver a petition defied the ban on 21 September 2017. In response, armed police officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the students. Five students were arrested and police sealed off the opposition party Forum for Democratic Change’s office to prevent a similar march to the parliament.[31] The mayor of Kampala, Erias Lukwago, was arrested on the same day at his home after he and several other city officials planned to hold a procession from city hall to the city square to launch their campaign against removing the constitutionally-mandated presidential age limit.[32]

Despite the ban on peaceful assemblies, by 26 September 2017 age limit protests had spread to Mbale, Arua, Mbarara, Masaka, and Pader. Several key opposition members were arrested, including six members from the Forum for Democratic Change, four-time presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye, and East African Legislative Assembly Member Fred Mukasa Mbidde.[33]

[1]     Mother Jones, “Meet the American Pastor Behind Uganda’s Anti-Gay Crackdown,” 10 March 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/03/scott-lively-anti-gay-law-uganda/2/, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[2]     United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, “Sexual Minorities Uganda V. Scott Lively: Memorandum and Order Regarding Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgement,” 5 June 2017, https://ccrjustice.org/sites/default/files/attach/2017/06/350_2017-06-05_ORDER%20granting%20Def’s%20MSJ_2.pdf, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[3] DefendDefenders, “Uganda: Police Authorities must conduct impartial and transparent investigations into the extra-judicial killing of HRD,” 30 June 2017, https://www.defenddefenders.org/press_release/uganda-police-authorities-must-conduct-impartial-and-transparent-investigations-into-the-extra-judicial-killing-of-hrd/, Accessed 20 October 2017.

[4]     The Monitor, “Police raid offices of civil society organisations,” 20 September 2017, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Police-search-Action-Aid-Uganda-offices-Kansanga/688334-4104798-xserjw/index.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[5]     AllAfrica, “Uganda: Police Seize Computers, Phones From Staff Before Leaving ActionAid Offices,” 20 September 2017, http://allafrica.com/stories/201709220067.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[6] CIVICUS, “Joint Statement: Grave concern over recent raids on Ugandan civil society groups,” 10 October 2017, http://civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/2974-joint-statement-grave-concern-over-recent-raids-on-ugandan-civil-society-groups, Accessed 20 October 2017.

[7]     The East African, “Echoes of 1966 as guns return to parliament over Constitution,” 23 September 2017, http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/Echoes-of-1966-as-guns-return-to-parliament/2558-4108694-10nrrdz/index.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[8]     Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, “Tough Times: Political Intolerance Stifles Media,” 4 May 2017, https://hrnjuganda.org/?wpfb_dl=66, Accessed 29 September 2017.

[9]     The Monitor, “Do not fight with police, Kayima tells journalists,” 3 May 2017, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Do-not-fight-with-police–Kayima-tells-journalists/688334-3911216-14hqc8uz/index.html, Accessed 29 September 2017.

[10] Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, “Uganda police in brutal arrest of journalists on world Press Freedom Day,” 4 May 2017, https://hrnjuganda.org/?p=3517, Accessed 24 October 2017

[11]    Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, “UCC finds radio station innocent, switches it back on after two million shillings payment,” 30 May 2017, https://hrnjuganda.org/?p=3567, Accessed 29 September 2017.

[12]    Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, “Court Dismisses Charges against Lira based Journalist,” 8 June 2017, https://hrnjuganda.org/?p=3589, Accessed 29 September 2017.

[13]    Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, “Security personnel order journalists to delete footage,” 13 June 2017, https://hrnjuganda.org/?p=3599, Accessed 29 September 2017.

[14]    Committee to Protect Journalists, “Newspaper editor interrogated in Uganda,” 21 June 2017, https://cpj.org/2017/06/newspaper-editor-interrogated-by-authorities-in-ug.php, Accessed 29 September 2017.

[15]    Reporters Without Borders, “Uganda creates unit to spy on social networks,” 30 June 2017, https://rsf.org/en/news/uganda-creates-unit-spy-social-networks, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[16]    BBC, “Uganda bans Dutch film for ‘glorifying homosexuality,’” 16 May 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-39934636, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[17]    The Observer, “Kayihura ‘bans’ age limit debate in universities,” 14 July 2017, http://www.observer.ug/news/headlines/53841-kayihura-bans-age-limit-debate-in-universities.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[18]    Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, “Police stones journalists as they cover staff quarters on fire,” 24 August 2017, https://hrnjuganda.org/?p=3790, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[19]    Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, “Police Officers assault journalists, Confiscate their gadgets,” 13 September 2017, https://hrnjuganda.org/?p=3826, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[20]    Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, “Police arrests journalists covering opponents of age limit removal,” 20 September 2017, https://hrnjuganda.org/?p=3846, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[21]    New Vision, “Journalists arrested for covering age limit protests,” 27 September 2017, https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1462452/journalists-arrested-covering-age-limit-protests, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[22]    Uganda Communications Commission, “Guidelines on Live Broadcasts,” 26 September 2017, https://twitter.com/Agenongar/status/912987807718686720, Accessed October 2017.

[23] African Centre for Media Excellence “Ugandan journalists push back against regulator,” 2 October 2017, https://acme-ug.org/2017/10/02/ugandan-journalists-push-back-against-regulator/, Accessed 24 October 2017.

[24] African Centre for Media Excellence, “Live TV coverage ban lifted, but conditions don’t satisfy Uganda broadcasters,” 6 October 2017, https://acme-ug.org/2017/10/06/live-tv-coverage-ban-lifted-but-conditions-dont-satisfy-ugandan-broadcasters/, Accessed 24 October 2017.

[25]    The Monitor, “Police fire live bullets to disperse angry crowd,” 29 June 2017, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Police-fire-live-bullets-to-disperse-angry-crowd/688334-3992602-xj6q6ez/index.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[26]    Premium Times, “Uganda Police detain three for staging President Museveni’s mock funeral,” 7 July 2017, https://www.premiumtimesng.com/foreign/africa/236188-uganda-police-detain-three-staging-president-musevenis-mock-funeral.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[27]    The Monitor, “Two arrested for burning Museveni T-shirts over age limit,” 18 July 2017, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Two-arrested-burning-Museveni-s-T-shirts-over-age-limit/688334-4019808-15oxdoj/index.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[28]    Reuters, “Ugandan police arrest 56 for holding illegal meetings,” 20 July 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-politics/ugandan-police-arrest-56-for-holding-illegal-meetings-idUSKBN1A52AX, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[29]    The Monitor, “VIDEO: Police arrest Mao over demonstration on age limit,” 20 July 2017, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Police-arrest-Mao-over-demonstration-on-age-limit/688334-4024010-hcj7sc/index.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[30]    Daily Nation, “Uganda bans protests amid bid to scrap presidential age limit,” 21 September 2017, http://www.nation.co.ke/news/africa/Uganda-demos-ban-presidential-age-limit/1066-4105468-d4yw19z/index.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[31]    The Monitor, “Student shot over anti-age limit protests,” 21 September 2017, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Student-shot-over-anti-age-limit-protests/688334-4105846-833v3u/index.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[32]    The Monitor, “Lukwago arrested over age limit,” 21 September 2017, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Lukwago-under-house-arrest-over-age-limit/688334-4105342-ljyw1c/index.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

[33]    The Monitor, “Besigye, Mbidde arrested,” 26 September 2017, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Besigye-Mbidde-arrested-police/688334-4112750-e4h1whz/index.html, Accessed 2 October 2017.

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