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Uganda bans demonstrations, restricts media

Alex Gitta (in Kampala)May 6, 2016

Uganda has issued a ban on all political demonstrations ahead of President Museveni’s re-inauguration ceremony next week. The order also restricts the media from any live coverage of opposition activities.

Uganda Unruhen
Image: dapd

Opposition parties in Uganda had been planning several counter measures including demonstrations to block President Yoweri Museveni's re-inauguration on Thursday.

"We are stopping it because there is a court order that says, 'do not cover live'," said Jim Muhwezi, Uganda's Minister of Information.

The leading opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), had announced a defiance campaign against President Museveni's re-election, an election that both local and international observers said was marred by a series of irregularities.

In the early hours of Thursday, the police and the army deployed anti-riot officers around the city and at the residences of all key opposition leaders.

Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye Copyright: Emmanuel Lubega,
Opposition leader Kizza Besigye refuses to accept President Museveni's victory in February pollsImage: DW/E. Lubega

The demonstration was hence called off.

A few hours later, the Ugandan police, under a presidential order, announced that all opposition leaders weren't allowed to leave their homes. Security guards had been placed outside their homes to monitor their activities.

President Yoweri Museveni made it illegal to hold any demonstration in the country before his re-inauguration. The media is also forbidden to report live on all opposition activities. But Information Minister Muhwezi went further to say covering opposition activities would mean aiding and abetting the enemy.

"If there is an order for Dr. Kizza Besigye not to continue with his defiance campaign, when you give him a platform to speak live to the whole world, then you are defying that order," Muhwezi said.

"You are an accomplice, of course he will be guilty, but you will be guilty too," Muhwezi added. The main opposition candidate, Kizza Besigye, is still under house arrest for rejecting President Museveni's victory in February's presidential election.

Restriction of movement

Besigye's opposition FDC party had been holding weekly prayers at their headquarters in Kampala. Earlier this week, those that turned up for the prayers were stopped and 24 of them were arrested including a pastor and the mayor of Kampala city, Erias Lukwago.

Ugandan soldiers deployed in Kampala EPA/DAI KUROKAWA
Ugandan troops were deployed in Kampala on Thursday to prevent any demonstrationImage: picture-alliance/dpa/D.Kurokawa

Inspector general of the police Kale Kaihura had insisted the police will not allow any public activities by the FDC. But legal minds in Kampala question the legality of the order arguing that the Ugandan constitution gives people the right to assembly and religious gathering. But the order goes as far as restriction media coverage both locally and internationally.

"It's not an order against international media," said Nicholas Opio, a legal pundit in Kampala. "It's an order against particular sections of the society who are parties to this case. To interpret that order to mean an order against the world including banning media houses from covering legitimate activities around the country is to overstretch that order. That entire procedure cannot be used to suspend the enjoyment of a fundamental right for a large section of society."

But Mwesigwa Rukutana, Uganda's deputy attorney general insisted the ban covers every media house in and outside the country. "It applies to the subject matter not merely to the parties to the suit, because it says any other person, it applies to the whole world," Rukutana said.

"Everybody is bound to respect this order whether he is party to the proceedings before court or not," he added.

Is the media forced to be biased?

The National Association of Broadcasters Uganda (NAB Uganda) criticized the order as a move by the government to completely silence the opposition. "I believe Besigye has followers, they will feel that we are kind of covering one side," said Kin Kaliisa, chairperson of the NAB Uganda.

Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda Copyright: picture alliance/Kyodo
Thursday next week will mark the beginning of Yoweri Museveni's fifth termImage: picture alliance/Kyodo

"We feel it's going to affect media houses and in one way or the other people will feel we are not giving them the truth. But again once you have a license, you have to act within those regulations they give you.

Besigye and his FDC party had earlier announced that they will not allow Museveni to be sworn in unchallenged. They had called for an independent audit into the results of the general elections.

The election was challenged by another losing candidate, Museveni's former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. His petition was dismissed by court for lack of evidence. Museveni polled 61 percent of the total votes cast, while Besigye came second with 35 percent.