By Spy Uganda
Kampala: The Human Rights Watch Organization has revealed that the arrest and detention of presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine, is a sign of the growing repression of opposition politicians ahead of national elections scheduled for January 2021.
The Rights watch dog condemned security’s response with teargas and live bullets to the protests that followed in Kampala and elsewhere, which led to over 50 deaths, with over 100 people injured and over 500 detained in various detention centres across the country.
“The increasing spate of violence so early in the campaign season does not bode well for the weeks to come before the elections,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities can stem the slide toward further violence by ending the harassment of journalists and opposition candidates and their supporters, and the violent disruption of their campaign rallies.”
Video footage circulating on social media showed men in civilian clothes apparently working alongside security forces to disperse crowds during the protests, brandishing guns on the streets of Kampala and shooting toward the sky.
The Watch says in the last two weeks, the authorities have used Covid-19 regulations as a pretext to violate rights and clamp down on the opposition and the media.
Despite attracting similarly large crowds in Kotido and Gulu, security forces allowed rallies and processions for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party to continue undisrupted.
On November 3, the police smashed the window of Kyagulanyi’s vehicle, trying to arrest him at Kyambogo University in Kampala after the Electoral Commission confirmed his nomination to run for president. Kyagulanyi told the media that the police sprayed pepper spray into his eyes during the arrest. He was later taken to his home in Magere in Kampala and released. Earlier that day police also arrested Amuriat as he made his way to Kyambogo for the presidential nominations, and later released him without his shoes.
The Kampala-based African Centre for Media Excellence reported that the police used pepper spray on journalists on November 3 as they covered a procession by Kyagulanyi’s supporters in Kyambogo and arrested Ronald Kakooza, a journalist from the Vision Group, while he covered events at the Forum for Democratic Change headquarters in Najjanankumbi, on the outskirts of Kampala. On November 5,the police shot another journalist, Moses Bwayo, in the face with a rubber bullet as he was filming Kyagulanyi arriving at his party’s office.
Amid the campaign chaos, unidentified people reportedly attacked two NBS television journalists, Daniel Lutaaya and Thomas Kitimbo, as they covered Kyagulanyi’s campaign, stealing their property–a laptop was stolen, as well as camera chargers and phones – and vandalizing their car.
“Any use of force and “less-lethal” weapons such as teargas must comply with international law as articulated in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials,” the HR Watch said, adding, “Force should only be used when other means of de-escalation have proven inadequate. When police use force, they should ensure that it is strictly proportionate to the danger to public order posed by protesters and seek to minimize the risk of injuries and protect the rights to life and health.”
The watch adds that police can only employ firearms in self-defense when “less extreme means,” are insufficient and it is “strictly unavoidable to protect life.”
“The Ugandan government is obligated to ensure that excessive use of force is subject to scrutiny and in particular that there is an effective investigation into the deaths and injuries of all civilians that leads to accountability for unlawful killings and injuries and access to a remedy for the victims, ” it added.
It adds that while enforcing the government’s Covid-19 measures, earlier in the year, security forces shot at civilians and beat and arbitrarily arrested hundreds. The police arrested vendors, journalists.
“The authorities have consistently used Covid-19 guidelines as an excuse for violent repression of the opposition rather than to safeguard the democratic playing field for free and fair elections,” said Nyeko, “The Ugandan government should instead focus on ensuring that the security forces respect the rule of law, are held accountable for abuses, and act in an impartial manner.”