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Africa

Anger in Uganda over new anti-protest bill

A new bill passed by the Ugandan parliament has sparked a huge debate among the opposition and human rights groups. Critics say the new Public Order Management Bill infringes freedom of expression and assembly.

Uganda's new bill against public protests has drawn criticism from the opposition and human rights campaigners. The law which was passed on Tuesday (06.08.2013) bans any public gatherings of more than three people and demonstrations.

The new law will give more power to the police to take control over public gatherings and even use force to break up unauthorized gatherings of more than three people.

DW's correspondent in Kampala, Alex Gitta, says the problem is that the police in Uganda are not objective on issues concerning the opposition. This means the opposition can be sure that they will never be allowed to hold any gathering of a political nature.

Speaking on behalf of the government, deputy leader of government business in parliament and a member of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, Moses Ali, said the bill would "protect people's interests. We have as much as possible tried to accommodate the views expressed by the opposition as well as what the public thinks," he said.

Opposition leader and former presidential candidate, Kiiza Besigye. (Photo: AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi)

Uganda opposition leader Kizza Besigye is a fierce critic of President Museveni

However, Sarah Jackson, deputy Africa director of the British-based human rights group Amnesty International, says "this bill represents a serious blow to open political debate in a country where publicly criticizing the government is already fraught with risk."

Like many other critics, Jackson thinks that the bill is "insidious" and that it is designed to intimidate political space and protect President Yoweri Museveni's regime which has been facing serious anti-government street protests over the high cost of living, corruption and violation of civil rights in the country.

Maria Burnett, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, said, with this law in force, any peaceful demonstration or spontaneous gatherings of more than three people will be a criminal act.

"Political demonstrations already face serious obstacles, including the use of live ammunition on innocent bystanders and demonstrators," she said.

Unconstitutional law

The bill was passed after police had cracked down on opposition street protests in the capital, Kampala. The police have regularly used tear gas and live ammunition to break up such meetings.

Moreover, the opposition has been facing a display of strong arm tactics by the security forces, with three time presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, who is a fierce critic of the president, being arrested every time he steps out of his house.

Ugandan police face protestors (Photo: AP Photo/Marc Hofer)

Ugandan police have often fired tear gas and used live immunition to disperse protestors

Reacting to the passing of the bill, the opposition leader in the Ugandan Parliament, Nandala Mafabi said the law is unconstitutional and they are going to challenge it before the constitutional court. " The law which was passed is not allowed in any country that is democratic. It is a law which is going to abuse human rights and we... who believe in democracy are going to challenge it."

Correspondent Alex Gitta says the opposition is more popular in Kampala and other urban areas than in rural parts of the country. Meetings are held frequently to recruit new supporters.

"This law will affect the recruiting process of the opposition parties and also will prohibit them from passing on their messages to their supporters," Gitta said on DW's Africalink program.

In the Ugandan capital Kampala, there is growing concern among citizens over the new bill which will block citizens' rights in political processes. Speaking to DW, one resident said the new bill "will bring more trouble. I think the government is going to use more teargas than they have already been doing."

Another one said " it is uncalled for. In the first place. this doesn't give us a good image as a country because we should be moving to more openness rather than trying to control people's thoughts and actions."

Uganda's ruling NRM party dominates parliament and has the power to pass any law it deems necessary. Last week members of the opposition in parliament boycotted a discussion about the new law but there are not enough of them to successfully challenge the NRM.

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