By Nangayi Guyson
Kampala, Uganda –The parliament in Uganda on Tuesday last week passed a bill that imposes wide ranging restrictions on public gatherings. The new law gives the police ultimate powers to prevent a gathering of more than three people in a public place to discuss political issues.
The Public Order Management Bill 2011 has been a heating debate in Uganda’s parliament since last week and about four Members of parliament were suspended for more than three seating sessions over the bill.
The passed Bill imposes wide ranging restrictions on public meetings and gives the police unprecedented powers to even use guns when prohibiting and dispersing public gatherings of any political nature. The passing of this Bill means that political gatherings like protests, meetings, and political programs on Televisions or radios that have been conducted by opposition leaders are no more without police permission. Discussing on political issues with friends in bars, hotels, salons and other public places and even discussing on an article in the newspaper, radio and TV without permission may also hand Ugandans to prison. Criticizing the government publicly on certain issues is also an offense.
Pressure groups like Activists for Change (A4C) which became For God and My Country (4GC) after being outlawed, Black Monday Activists that have been protesting against government over corruption among others are now inactive without police permission. The protests like “walk –to –work “ and others organized by President Mr Museveni’s former comrade and personal physician but now rival Dr. Kizz Besigye are now defused.
The Bill require that before holding any public meeting, Police should have received a written notice within seven days in advance and that such meetings can only be held between 6 am and 6pm and police can to stop or prevent a public meeting at any time if they believe it poses a breach of the peace or public order.
Several Ugandan opposition politicians and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) had urged Parliament not to pass this Bill but it is unfortunate that it was passed. Amnesty International’s deputy Africa director, Sarah Jackson, said “This Bill represents a serious blow to open political debate in a country where publicly criticizing the government is already fraught with risk,” said Sarah Jackson
“The Ugandan government must stop trying to crush the rights to free speech and peaceful demonstration as enshrined in its own constitution as well as international law.”
“This insidious Bill is designed to intimidate civil society and shrink Uganda’s diminishing political space further still,” said Sarah Jackson.
“Prohibitions on open political discussion and peaceful demonstration are alarming and utterly impermissible under international law.”
The leader of opposition in Uganda’s parliament Hon. Nanda Mafabi, told This media that opposition is planning legal action over the bill that was passed purposely to silence them. “Museveni‘s government has lost popularity among Ugandans and internationally and that’s why he has resorted to this desperate attempts at passing laws which no longer exist “ said Hon. Mafabi
Amnesty intentional and other Civil society Organizations urged parliament not to pass the Public Order Management Bill but when we asked Hon. Nandala Mafabi what exactly failed the MPs to halt the passing of the bill, Hon. Mafabi said that “President Museveni and his party used back methods like offering bribes in getting support to pass it and MPs were ambushed about the bill without having prior knowledge about it before its passing” Hon Mafabi said.
He added that “such laws only existed during Amin’s brutal rule on Ugandans and Museveni’s regime can only be compared to that of Dictator Idi Amin which used force and bad laws to govern the people”
Hon .Mafabi, further explained that the opposition will take political and legal steps to fight this law. First they will work with donor nations for support and they will push for reforms to this unrealistic law using legal methods.
Other Ugandans in and outside the country who are familiar to social Medias took up arms to condemn the bill.
Mr Richard Semitego, a common opposition activist in London and associated with political pressure groups in Uganda and also well known for his Critical facebook posts about president Museveni, after the passing of the bill, he posted saying that “Uganda Under Military Rule: Army General Museveni’s Public Order Management Bill has been passed.
From today it will be illegal for more than 5 Ugandans to get together without Army General (IGP) Kale Kayihura or Army General Aronda Nyakairima the Minister for Internal Affairs authorization.
Even Idi Amin never reached this stage of TERRORISING Ugandans. Museveni and your Military Regime belong to hell”
In a news statement released on Friday, Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, stated that several provisions of the law constitute an undue restriction on the ability for individuals to take part in public assembly. “Requiring prior authorization from the authorities to hold an assembly may result in an effective ban on certain gatherings, which violates Uganda’s international obligations,” he said. Mr. Kiai also stressed that “the requirement to list the names of all participants serves only to frighten people from expressing their right to peaceful assembly
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, noted that “police intimidation has no place in a free, open and democratic society” and that the use of firearms must be strictly safeguarded. “The Law fails to limit firearm use; it must ensure they can only be used after exhausting all other possible means, in compliance with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Official,” she stressed.
Ms. Sekaggy also voiced concern that this law is clearly aimed at obstructing the work of human rights defenders and those who legitimately wish to express their concerns with the Government. “By excluding assemblies for social, religious, cultural, charitable, educational, commercial or industrial purposes, as well as meetings of any political party from its provisions, it is clear that this law is not intended to protect public safety during public events, but is designed to unduly limit those who wish to publicly defend their human rights,” she said.
This media, tried to get views from President Museveni’s ruling party MPs and when we contacted the Minister for Internal Affairs General Aronda Nyakairima by press time, he said “I am in an important meeting now, I can’t discuss on that matter but what I can only say is that the bill was passed for the good of the Uganda people” said General Aronda Nyakairima.
The response from Capt. Mike Mukula, former NRM vice chairman for eastern region was that his comments about the bill are inconsequential and not was not ready to discuss on the matter.
Government interference, repression and crackdown on the opposition in Uganda have been on the rise since 2011 elections. In April, 2011 there was brutal arrests of opposition leaders which attracted the international community to voice concerns over it. Dr Kizza Besigye and other opposition leaders have been arrested and charged by police over demonstrations. Also in may this year, two newspapers and two radio stations were closed for 10 days after they reported on an alleged government plot to assassinate politicians opposed to President Yoweri Museveni’s son taking over when his father steps down. The Uganda president Yoweri Museveni has been in office since 1986, having seized power as the head of a rebel army and has been blamed for using police as his political tool to suppress the opposition.