Uganda’s Minister of State for Internal Affairs has defended police treatment of opposition members, saying the treatment is in line with the police role under the constitution. James Baba said the police have not been heavy-handed in their dealing with the opposition but rather they have been responding to defiance by some members of the opposition.
Uganda will hold presidential and parliamentary elections in February 2016 in which President Yoweri Museveni, who has now been in power for almost 30 years, is seeking another term.
Earlier this month a female official of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change – Fatuma Zaina Abalinabyo, was stripped naked on live television as the police tried to prevent FDC leader Kizza Besigye from holding a provincial rally.
Baba said Abalinabyo stripped herself and is trying to blame it on police. He said women opposition supporters, particularly FDC, have developed a new strategy of nudity to make political statements.
“What is happening now is that during this election period, temperatures are heightened, activities are heightened. So the police are overstretched in their work. And worst still, many people don’t want to obey the law; they want to do things their own way. So, defiance automatically comes into conflict with the machinery of law and order,” he said.
Baba denied the police have been heavy-handed in dealing with opposition members, particularly members of the FDC.
“The police has the authority to maintain law and order. If your police officer gives you an order, please don’t go this direction and you insist, obviously there will be a clash; you have to be disbursed because the right to demonstrate, the right to participate is not absolute. Other people also have rights. These rights go with obligation,” Baba said.
Still, Baba said he has appointed an independent commission of inquiry to look into the matter of the alleged stripping of Fatuma Zaina Abalinabyo.
“I met the lady yesterday in my office; all of them came from the women’s groups, the women’s human rights watch; they were all there. We also played for them a version of what happened. It clearly shows the woman stripped herself. But she is insisting police stripped her. So what I have done, I’m going to appoint a independent inquiry to look into this, not involving the police but involving representatives of the women’s groups so that we can go to the bottom of this thing,” Baba said.
Ugandan police handling of public order management has been a source of serious human rights violations over recent years, according to Human Rights Watch.
The group said the opposition’s ability to communicate with voters, particularly outside the capital Kampala, is precarious. They risk beatings, arrest, or worse.
Baba said the police were simply enforcing the laws set by the National Independent Electoral Commission.
“The laws applicable to the electoral process are made by the elections commission. The police only enforce them. And the electoral commission had said clearly when to consult, when to have rallies, when to have public meetings. And once they say 'no, this is not the time for rallies, this is not time for [it].' Our job is to enforce the law,” Baba said.