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Human rights violations increase as Ugandans head to polls

Uganda's incumbent President Yoweri Museveni speaks to the media soon after casting his vote at a polling station during the presidential elections in Kirihura, western Uganda, 18 February 2016
Uganda's incumbent President Yoweri Museveni speaks to the media soon after casting his vote at a polling station during the presidential elections in Kirihura, western Uganda, 18 February 2016

REUTERS/James Akena

This statement was originally published on africafex.org on 17 February 2016.

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) is alarmed at the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda ahead of the country's 2016 polls.

AFEX has noted with dismay the increased hostility of state officials and security agents in Uganda towards the media and opposition elements in the run-up to the February 18, 2016 general elections.

From October 2015 to date, more than 15 journalists have been attacked while covering opposition campaigns or carrying out their duties. In all these cases, the police, security forces or supporters of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party have been the perpetrators of these violations. For instance, the police shot two reporters, Vincent Mukisa of Radio One and Enoch Matovu of NTV, and the beat Haruna Mugerwa of Vision Group.

In January 2016, a police commander threatened to shoot reporters from NTV, New Vision and Daily Monitor. This was after manhandling them, damaging the video camera of one and seizing three others.

In the same month, six private guards of the ruling NRM beat and injured a journalist for recording the speech of the flag-bearer and sitting president at a rally.

Unfortunately, the army has joined the fray. On February 3, 2016, four army officers attacked a journalist, confiscated his equipment and deleted his recordings. The journalist was covering a scuffle between the ruling NRM supporters and the police.

In addition to the attacks against media personnel, political activists have also been targeted in this spate of violence. On February 15, 2016, police officers stormed the premises of Radio North FM and arrested the editor and six politicians. The arrests were made in the course of a live political talk show on the station. The victims were accused of defacing posters of President Yoweri Museveni.

One of President Museveni's biggest rivals, Dr. Kizza Besigye, who was arrested along with Amama Mbabazi by the police last year for allegedly organising meetings without police permission, was again arrested on Monday, February 15, during his campaign – this time, for allegedly refusing to adhere to police instructions.

There have also been instances of high profile arrests, disappearances, killings, torture, harassment and intimidation according to AFEX sources in Uganda.

Human rights defenders/activists, journalists and dissidents who criticise these acts of violation by the Museveni administration are hunted down by the police and other security forces.

The duty of governments, police and other security agencies across the world is to protect and defend people's rights while ensuring law and order. It is therefore unacceptable that police officers in Uganda have rather become the worst violators of such rights.

AFEX joins the international community in condemning and deploring these violations being perpetuated by state security apparatus to intimidate political opponents and critical journalism and calls for an immediate end to them.

Having noted the Ugandan authorities' utter disregard for the several calls by human rights and civil society groups to stop the flagrant abuse of FoE rights, since October 2015, we call on the East African Community (EAC), the African Union (AU), and other intergovernmental and international organisations to put pressure on the Ugandan government to end the unsavoury situation.

The media are critical for the success of every election. Therefore, as Ugandans go to the polls on February 18, 2016, AFEX calls on all the security agencies in the country to protect all stakeholders, especially the media and allow them to carry out their duties without any form of intimidation or interference. The police must also ensure that they carry out their mandate of maintaining order without any form of discrimination.

Finally, AFEX also urges all stakeholders in the upcoming elections, especially political parties to commit to ensuring peaceful, free and fair elections and accept the outcome of the elections.

Media Foundation for West Africa
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Journaliste en danger
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
National Union of Somali Journalists
West African Journalists Association

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