Uganda: Authorities must stop criminalizing activists for protesting high cost of living

The Ugandan authorities must release the six politicians and activists arrested solely for protesting the high cost of living and respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said today ahead of their bail hearing tomorrow. 

The arrest and continued detention of these activists amounts to intimidation and harassment. This is a clear attempt by the Ugandan authorities to suppress freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa

Police arrested the six women on 30 May 2022 at Mulago roundabout in Kampala while they held placards protesting inflation, high prices of essential goods and the continued detention of Kizza Besigye, the leader of the political pressure group People’s Front for Transition.

“The arrest and continued detention of these activists amounts to intimidation and harassment. This is a clear attempt by the Ugandan authorities to suppress freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“These six activists must be immediately released. Instead of criminalizing public criticism of inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, the Ugandan authorities should take steps to mitigate the impact of rising food costs on those who can least afford it.”

The six women include MP Anna Adeke, Deputy Mayor of Kampala Doreen Nyanjura and four women activists, Wokuri Mudanda, Susan Nanyojo, Mariam Kizito and Alice Amony. They were charged with inciting violence and unlawful assembly and remanded at Luzira Prison in Kampala.

The protests were sparked by rising inflation, which grew from 2.7% in January 2022 to 6.3% in May 2022 and increased the cost of essential consumer goods. Food inflation disproportionately impacts people living in poverty, who spend a greater percentage of their income on food. While inflation is currently a global problem, governments have an obligation to ensure the right to sufficient and adequate access to food, including through international assistance. The arrested politicians and activists had criticized the Ugandan government’s response to rising food costs.

Clampdown on dissent

Ugandan police arrested Kizza Besigye at Arua Park in Kampala on 23 May, where he was addressing people in one of a series of protests about the economic situation.

On 12 May, the police had placed him under a “preventive arrest” which the Ugandan authorities use to pre-emptively prevent an offence.

On 25 May, Besigye was charged with incitement to violence in Buganda Road Court and granted a UGX 30,000,000 (about USD 8,100) cash bail. He objected to this on the grounds that it was excessive and instructed his lawyers to apply for a review of the bail conditions. On 6 June, the High Court reduced the cash bail to UGX 3,000,000 (about USD 810).

The Ugandan authorities must stop using preventive detention and criminal charges to deter people from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The Constitution of Uganda obliges the state to ensure that Ugandans are able to petition the government, exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and to enjoy decent shelter, health and food security.

By arresting people who are concerned about the high cost of living, the Ugandan authorities risk seeming disconnected from the everyday reality of those living in poverty, including people who cannot afford to put a meal on the table

Deprose Muchena

“By arresting people who are concerned about the high cost of living, the Ugandan authorities risk seeming disconnected from the everyday reality of those living in poverty, including people who cannot afford to put a meal on the table,” said Deprose Muchena.

Background:

Protests continue to be criminalized in Uganda with no legal basis even after the country’s Constitutional Court declared Section 8 of the Public Order Management unconstitutional. It was thought that nullifying parts of the law would limit the power held by the Inspector General of Police to arbitrarily prevent or stop public gatherings and crack down on protests.

The state uses Section 83 of the Penal Code Act to charge people for incitement to violence to deter them from protesting.

The post Uganda: Authorities must stop criminalizing activists for protesting high cost of living appeared first on Amnesty International.

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