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Uganda Journalists Arrested; Opposition Contests Poll Results


A Ugandan riot policeman blocks the gate of the party headquarters of opposition leader Kizza Besigye, shortly after raiding the premises for the second time in a week, in the capital Kampala, Feb. 22, 2016.

A Ugandan riot policeman blocks the gate of the party headquarters of opposition leader Kizza Besigye, shortly after raiding the premises for the second time in a week, in the capital Kampala, Feb. 22, 2016.

Uganda is headed for a Supreme Court battle over the results of the February 18 presidential poll as tensions there continue to climb.

Amama Mbabazi's lawyers managed to submit their petition to the Supreme Court Tuesday, just minutes before the deadline. The petition lays out 28 alleged irregularities including bribery, late arrival of voting materials, inconsistencies with voting cards and election papers the opposition says were pre-checked and stuffed into boxes.

Mbabazi finished a distant third in the February 18 poll. Results showed President Yoweri Museveni winning a fifth term in office with 60 percent of the vote.

Second place finisher Kizza Besigye was not able to get a petition to the courts by the deadline. His camp says repeated arrests and detention by security forces made it impossible for Besigye to file a challenge.

Besigye, Museveni's main challenger for the past 15 years, previously challenged election results in 2001 and 2006.

Opposition leader and presidential candidate Kizza Besigye speaks to the media while under continued house arrest, at his home in Kasangati, outside the capital Kampala, in Uganda, Feb. 21, 2016.

Opposition leader and presidential candidate Kizza Besigye speaks to the media while under continued house arrest, at his home in Kasangati, outside the capital Kampala, in Uganda, Feb. 21, 2016.

His party says they will speak to Mbabazi's camp about possibly joining Mbabazi's petition. But Robert Kirunda, a legal expert in Kampala, said that's unlikely to happen.

“I don't think though that he will because I think there have been two principal issues with him going to court. In the first place after 2006, he decided he'd never go back to 'that court' as he called it. But also because of the handcuffs. I've spoken to his lawyers and they've told me man, the challenges are real. In terms of what he can and cannot do. And because of those challenges he figured, so what,” he said.

However, if just one count of Mbabazi's petition is ruled in favor, the election can be nullified. This could lead to another election within 30 days. The Supreme Court could also name another winner.

Crackdown on journalists

Meanwhile, journalists in Uganda are coming under increasing pressure. Twice this week, local television stations have done live broadcasts of police loading journalists into cars and taking them away.

Robert Ssempala, with the Human Rights Network for Journalism Uganda, said this trend began before the vote.

“Since the campaign season started, we've recorded now over 80 incidents, violations and abuses of media rights and freedoms. This has happened most at the hands of security agents, more especially the police which now works hand in hand with the army. Most of the victims have been journalists covering opposition related activities.... Lately we've now seen a more systematic and cruel crackdown on the journalists especially those covering Besigye in Kasangati. Now we have a total of 17 journalists victimized in about four or five days,” he said.

Police say they are arresting people they deem to be disturbing the peace or inciting violence. However, with most journalists being let go the same day, and most of them without charge, many feel these roundups are a tactic of intimidation.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear Mbabazi’s petition next week. The court will have 30 days to rule.

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