‘It Is Extreme’: Uganda Tightens Screws As Vote Looms

Tear gas, midnight arrests, threats and intimidation– the techniques employed every election cycle in Uganda are familiar to all who attempt challenge President Yoweri Museveni’s 35-year grip on power.

However even those accustomed to such heavy-handedness say the crackdown ahead of elections on January 14 is extreme, even in a nation consistently ranked “not free” by democracy guard dogs.

Journalists have been assaulted, legal representatives jailed, election screens prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled utilizing coronavirus laws.

The brazenness has actually stunned Uganda’s allies, with the United States alerting last month of “repercussions for those who weaken democracy”.

Museveni has claimed every election given that taking power as a rebel leader in 1986– nearly all marred by abnormalities and violence AFP/ SUMY SADURNI

” Across the board– not just for people who deal with human rights concerns– repression has actually heightened,” said Oryem Nyeko, a researcher with Human Rights Enjoy in Uganda.

” Things have gotten progressively worse as the elections have come better.”

Museveni is looking for a 6th term in office, unbound by the constitution after parliament got rid of governmental age and term limits. The 76-year-old has declared every election given that taking power as a rebel leader in 1986– nearly all marred by irregularities and violence.

Map of Uganda where presidential elections will be hung on January 14 AFP/ STF

Civil libertarians state what little space existed for dissent in past surveys has actually diminished to near-vanishing point this time around, further tilting a currently grossly unequal playing field.

Amnesty International states unique campaign guidelines ostensibly imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic have actually been “weaponised” to browbeat the opposition– most especially the charming young presidential candidate and chief Museveni rival, Bobi White wine.

Where Museveni’s supporters have been allowed to collect in great deals, White wine’s rallies have been broken up with tear gas and baton-wielding authorities on the pretence of safeguarding public health, Amnesty stated.

Campaign rallies for Bobi Red wine (in red), have actually been broken up with tear gas and baton-wielding cops on the pretence of protecting public health AFP/ STRINGER

The popstar-turned-MP has been detained countless times for evident violations of Covid-19 policies, managed the campaign path and placed under home arrest. One such occurrence in November stimulated demonstrations in which a minimum of 54 people were shot dead by security forces.

The election commission cited coronavirus concerns when suspending campaigning this month in Kampala and a number of other districts. White wine, who hails from the capital and takes pleasure in popular assistance there, called the choice “cowardly” and a sign of program panic.

The ostentatious use of lawfare– flexing the law to silence critics– by Ugandan authorities was singled out last month by United Nations special private investigators.

Bobi White wine has actually been detained countless times for apparent offenses of Covid-19 regulations AFP/ Badru KATUMBA

In October, a government regulator indefinitely suspended an alliance of election monitoring groups, branding it “unlawful”. 2 months later on, 4 non-governmental organisations working on election procedures were implicated of financing terrorism, and their assets were frozen.

The country’s best-known rights legal representative, Nicholas Opiyo, has actually been charged with cash laundering, a case that has actually drawn condemnation from around the globe.

Opiyo’s prosecution and “the judicial harassment of those who express dissent appears to be strictly related to the electoral context, and fictitious charges being used to validate them,” stated the panel of UN special rights rapporteurs in late December.

Opiyo, who has encouraged Wine sometimes, was given bail on December 30.

However the arrest of such a high-profile federal government critic on apparently spurious charges stunned even experienced rights defenders.

Stephen Tumwesigye from Opiyo’s non-profit law office, Chapter Four Uganda, stated harassment and intimidation were anticipated come election time, but jailing and charging legal representatives was something unique.

” I believe it is rather severe,” he informed AFP.

This election is likewise the very first for which Ugandan authorities have at their fingertips an extensive, freshly finished CCTV surveillance system geared up with powerful facial-recognition software application from Chinese telecoms huge Huawei.

Museveni has actually hailed this surveillance network as a modern-day crime-fighting tool. However critics state it has actually served a more sinister purpose this election, permitting cops to track and apprehend protesters and to closely keep an eye on challengers.

” It’s not targeting criminality. It’s targeting the opposition,” said Dorothy Mukasa from Unwanted Witness, a Ugandan cyber advocacy group.

In December, reporters in Kampala– some using bulletproof vests– staged a walkout from a federal government interview in demonstration after 2 coworkers were shot covering opposition rallies.

” This is not indiscriminate fire,” stated the Foreign Reporters’ Association of Uganda, pointing out a “constant pattern of attacks” on media employees by security forces.

The Ugandan telecoms regulator wrote to YouTube’s parent company Google in December to request the blocking of Red wine’s YouTube channel Ghetto TV, citing concerns over national security.

Simply weeks before the election, on the other hand, foreign press reporters have actually been deported, and press accreditations have actually been destroyed, with all reporters informed to reapply.

The crackdown “exposes an undesirable desire to sacrifice the security of journalists and the general public’s right to details for the sake of censoring protection” of the elections, stated Muthoki Mumo from the Committee to Safeguard Journalists.

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