Uganda: In wake of elections, activists, journalists, and political opposition deserve justice

Press release
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Adam Jones, Creative Commons licence

Kampala, Nairobi, Paris – Security forces finally vacated the home of opposition candidate Bobi Wine following the Ugandan High Court’s ruling on 25 January. FIDH and its member organisation in Uganda, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), welcome the Court order and its application by security forces, while condemning the use of force, the continuous shrinking of democratic space after the elections, and calling for an end to the harassment of political opponents, activists and the media.

On 26 January, police and military withdrew from the house of Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, after the Ugandan High Court ruled in favour of the prominent opposition leader on 25 January, responding to his petition filed for illegal detention. [1] The High Court ordered the release of Wine and his wife by asking the police and the army to vacate the premises they had occupied without legal basis since the election day (14 January 2021). [2]

Presidential and parliamentary elections were held on 14 January 2021 in Uganda following a violent and unbalanced electoral season, which began in November 2020. Unsurprisingly to many, the results announced by the Uganda Electoral Commission gave the incumbent and long-time president, Yoweri Museveni, a sixth term in office.

Heavy military deployment has been observed in Kampala and surrounding areas since the eve of the elections, including around Wine, the main political challenger, who remained arbitrarily arrested with soldiers restricting him from leaving and others from entering his property [3] even after election results were announced. [4] Wine, who had been widely targeted by acts of harassment during the election campaign, [5] rejected the results, alleging fraud and malpractice. [6]

His National Unity Platform (NUP) party supporters and polling agents have been systematically assaulted, intimidated, kidnapped and brutalised during and after election day, including the disappearance and death of one of them. [7] Other opposition candidates said that authorities have forbid them from speaking to the public. [8]

The African Elections Watch Group, to which FIDH’s member organisation in Kenya, Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), belongs, recently condemned the arbitrary arrests of 26 civil society members during their election observation. They were detained at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Crime Intelligence Headquarters in Kampala before being released. [9]

Irregularities were observed by civil society members on election day. One million eligible voters who, given their young age, were more likely to vote for Wine, were not registered by the Uganda National Electoral Commission, which claimed to lack the material resources to register them. [10]

The absence of international observation missions, blocked by the Ugandan authorities, the internet and social media shutdown, and censorship and intimidation of journalists by military and security forces during the electoral season confirm the authoritarian character of Museveni’s regime [11] and reflect a broader decline of democracy in several African countries. [12]

FIDH and FHRI welcome the High Court’s decision and its application by the security forces, which released Bobi Wine and his wife, who had been in house arrest without legal basis since the elections. Our organisations call furthermore for the release of his supporters and any arbitrarily detained political prisoners, for an end to the violent harassment of political and human rights activists and journalists covering the electoral season, and for investigations to be opened, as a first step in bringing alleged perpetrators to justice.

Our organisations also call upon the African Union (AU), the East African Community (EAC) and the international community to condemn the shrinking democratic space in Uganda and the excessive use of force by the security forces, and to call for calm and dialogue.

Yoweri Museveni has been Uganda’s president since 1986, after amending the constitution twice, and clearly has no intention of relinquishing power. Since the beginning of the electoral season in November 2020, human rights defenders, political opponents and journalists have faced harassment. The election campaign has been marred by the excessive use of force by law enforcement agents, resulting in the arbitrary arrests, detentions and killing of civilians and internet restrictions. The deployment of the military during the electoral campaign caused the excessive use of force by the authorities and the killing of at least 50 people. The government justified this violence, describing it as necessary to ensure compliance with covid-19 health measures. [13]

The parliamentary elections, held the same day of the presidential elections, show a mixed picture in the allocation of seats between the ruling party and the opposition, and were also marred by violence, with those voting for opposition candidates, particularly from NUP, bearing the brunt of it. On the whole, the Local Council elections held on 25 January 2021 were largely peaceful, with very low voter turn-out.

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