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Uganda Lawmaker Says Government is Limiting Political Space

  • Peter Clottey

Ugandan police arrested opposition leader Kizza Besigye and supporters before a political rally in July, 2012 in the capital, Kampala.

Ugandan police arrested opposition leader Kizza Besigye and supporters before a political rally in July, 2012 in the capital, Kampala.

A member of Uganda Parliament’s Committee on Defense and Internal Affairs says the government is using the police and other state institutions to trample citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and assembly and undermining the constitution.

Muwanga Kivumbi Muhammed, a member of parliament for Butambala and a leader of the opposition Democratic Party, says the administration is limiting the political space. He says the government won't allow opposition groups to freely operate in the country’s democracy. He charged that they prevent opponents from engaging the public in dialogue on their recent demand for electoral reforms ahead of the 2016 general election.

His comments came after police reportedly removed Mugisha Muntu, leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and Zac Niringiye, a retired bishop, from a live radio show in Kabale Town in Uganda’s southwest.

Opposition keeping police informed

Muhammed says the police were informed about opposition activities to educate the public and to clarify the opposition’s right to insist on a transparent and credible vote.

“A deliberate effort was taken to write to the minister of internal affairs and a copy of which was given to the inspector general of police," Muhammed said. "We have tried in every way we can to obey the Public Order Management Law, bad as it may be. But the government has used forces of coercion and, I think, in utter contravention of the law. To me, it is an overthrow of the constitutional order."

In response to the allegations, police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba says the reports were based on wrong information.

Nabakooba rejected charges that police officers are being politically influenced by senior government officials to prevent opposition groups from holding rallies across the country. She said opposition groups have often failed to inform the police on time as stipulated in the Public Order Management Act before holding their rallies.

Muhammed says opposition groups are getting more and more support for their demands for democratic reforms: changes at the electoral commission, and the creation of a consultative forum to address challenges of electoral fraud ahead of the 2016 vote.

But he says the government continues to block opposition efforts to educate citizens about the need for credible elections.

Claims of tear gas attacks and arrests

“The government in utter contravention of the law is going around the country for the last two weeks arresting, tear-gasing, and putting key leaders in prison,” said Muhammed. “It is an abuse of our constitution, the basic tenets of our law and it is dictatorial and abuse of office.”

Supporters of the ruling party say the opposition has been creating chaos and confusion aimed at destabilizing the country to force a regime change. They contend that the government has an obligation mandated in the constitution to prevent violence and ensure the country’s stability.

Muhammed disagrees and says the opposition is simply trying to play its role in the democratic process.

“How disruptive can a town hall meeting be? It is not a rally, it is not a call for demonstration. Just a conversation with the people inside four corners of a building. So, really, you can’t justify this in any democracy. In any democracy this is far below the mark,” said Muhammed.