Police use public order law to abuse rights - activists

Tight hold. Female police officers arrest one of the activists who were distributing Black Monday magazines on Entebbe Road in Kampala yesterday. Thirteen were arrested and detained at the Central Police Station in Kampala for issuing out the materials that criticise government for widespread corruption. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Kampala-Human rights defenders (HRDs) have condemned police for violating people’s rights, which behaviour they say threatens transparency in the 2021 general elections.
The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda (NCHRD-U) yesterday accused the police of misapplying the Public Order Management Act to unfairly restrict legitimate assemblies of rights defenders and other actors.
“We ask the Police to end misapplication of the Public Order Management Act enacted in 2016 that is facilitating unlawful and partisan policing assemblies,” Mr Robert Kirenga, the NCHRD-U executive director, said.
“End brutality, arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention and attacks on journalists and other HRDs who monitor and report on human rights issues during protests and all situations,” he added
About status of HRDs in the country, Mr Kirenga asked the police to release what he described as the long overdue findings on NGO office break-ins in the country and prosecute the perpetrators.
“We urge the Inspector General of Police to prevail over the Police to stop arbitrary arrests and stop sanctioning trumped-up and frivolous charges often used in reprisal attacks against HRDs and strictly abide by Human Rights policy of the Force,” he said.
Mr Kirenga also appealed to police to immediately consider the journalists’ complaint against attacks on them.
In response, police deputy spokesperson Polly Namaye said they are improving on protection of human rights by working with stakeholders to stop the violations and also training of their officers. “Those incidents (of human rights violations) are regrettable but Police Professional Standards Unit is holding police officers accountable and investigating to prosecute the perpetuators of violation of human rights,” Ms Namaye said.
She asked the public to also look out for areas where police have acted unprofessionally to help them improve.
According to the NCHRD-U, a number of human rights violations incidents were registered across the country, including torture and incommunicado detention, but no action has been taken against the individual perpetrators.
“During the year 2019, human rights defenders experienced illegitimate restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression and press freedom. Most attacks were seen as a deliberate move by the perpetrators to cover up their unlawful acts. For instance, journalists and media houses were also targeted by the Uganda Communications Commission for covering the arrest of MP Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine,” he said.
Mr Kirenga asked the Electoral Commission to prioritise engagement with HRDs as key stakeholders ahead of the electoral cycle and to always find amicable solutions to the challenges.