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Police block demonstration by friends, family member of slain journalist

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Kampala, 8 December 2011 - Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is dismayed with the unfair treatment by Ugandan police against the families and friends of the late Charles Ingabire who wanted to express their grief and solidarity against the brutal killing of Ingabire and other Rwandans who have succumbed to this kind of gruesome treatment.

Ingabire, the editor of the Kinyarwanda online media magazine "Inyenyeri", was gunned down by unidentified assailants on 30 November 2011 in the gardens of Makies 2 Bar in a Kampala suburb. However, fear has mounted in both the Rwandan community and among journalists in Uganda about increased surveillance of them and their work. Ingabire is suspected to have been killed because of his journalistic work.

The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 additional protocols are the cornerstones of modern refugee protection wherein the government guarantees the basic human rights and physical security of the refugees. Therefore, the government of Uganda bears the prime responsibility for protecting refugees within its territory; this includes promoting and providing legal and physical protection and minimizing the threat of violence, including deaths, which many Rwandan refugees are prone to.

The committee set up by the community of Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda had sought protection while holding a peaceful demonstration on 8 December en route from Kisementi roundabout, through Kanjokya Street to Prince Charles drive, where they would petition the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees to look into their grievances.

A letter dated 6 December was written to the Inspector General of Police, Major General Kale Kaihura, seeking protection while peacefully demonstrating against the alarmingly rampant activities of intelligence officers who spy on their work in Uganda and the killings of Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers.

HRNJ-Uganda was reliably informed that Ugandan police officers dilly-dallied with the leaders who had gone to police headquarters on 7 December to secure protection. One of the leaders told HRNJ-Uganda that they reportedly went to police four times and appeared before different offices as they were being asked to go back after every three hours. "Whenever we would go to police headquarters, officers there were telling us that nothing had developed and that's how the day went without getting protection," said one leader whose name is withheld for security purposes.

Sources told HRNJ-Uganda that by 18:00 local time on 7 December, there was still no response until the Inspector General of Police intervened, made a private call to the Rwandan leaders and managed to coerce them to postpone their intentions for a few days as investigations were conducted into the matter. The IGP asked them to be patient and promised to grant permission at a future date.

"We were not surprised to hear that police blocked the demo. From our experiences with the Uganda police force, this is normal routine! It was a hectic wild goose chase that yielded no result. The police's response exhibits the high-handedness, partisan, and repressive role the police is playing in abrogating the Constitution, most especially Article 29, which provides for the right freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration," said HRNJ-Uganda Programs Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

HRNJ-Uganda reiterates its former position that called for intervention from independent bodies like Interpol to investigate Ingabire's gruesome murder.


BACKGROUND:

Ingabira's assassination demonstrates the extent of the security threats to the Rwandan community. The demonstration further sought to call on the international community, especially the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government of Uganda, the host country, to take effective measures in ensuring the safety and protection of Rwandan refugees, journalists and other human rights defenders. The demonstrators also wanted the UNHCR to desist from riding roughshod to serious concerns of security threats and the death of Rwandan refugees.

Also, the demonstration ultimately called for vigilance, independence and a thorough investigation by the police and all other relevant security agencies into mishaps against Rwandans. These investigations should ensure that the cases are seen to their logical conclusions, with the perpetrators being brought to book.

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