By Nkonge I Kaggwa and Ruth Namatovu in Kampala and Henry D Gombya in London
Ugandan police, military and other national intelligence services are holding hostage the leader of the main opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) after it failed to unseat the more than 30-year incumbent in a recently completed general election speaking of which the European Union Election Observer Mission (EU EOM) said the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM)’s ‘domination of the political landscape had distorted the fairness of the campaign and state actors created an intimidating atmosphere for both voters and candidates’.
Dr Warren Kizza Besigye, the FDC 2016 elections has been arrested five times since the pro-government Electoral Commission (EC) announced he had heavily lost to Yoweri Museveni who has held the country’s leadership since he shot his way to power in January 1986. elections were held. The latest arrest was Tuesday morning when he was arrested from his home as he attempted to go to the offices of the EC to collect relevant documents including the declaration forms that were used to declare the incumbent president that will help him support his case in the Supreme Court. As soon as he stepped outside his house, he was grabbed by armed and whisked to an unknown.
This arrest came shortly after he was released in the morning hours of Tuesday after being arrested by police on Monday and taken to Naggalama police station, over 30 km away from his home. He had been released without any charges preferred against. On Tuesday morning, The London Evening Post visited the home Dr Besigye’s home at Kasangati along Gayaza Road, at list 30 km away from the capital Kampala. Police had placed several armed officers who manned road blocks along the way. On arrival at his home, we saw police vehicles laded with policemen. No one was allowed to enter or leave Besigye’s household and the place was swarming with police and military activity while mounting a complete siege of the opposition leader’s residence.
The regional police commander for Kampala Siraje Bakaleke told reporters at Naggalama police station that the documents the Ugandan opposition leader was seeking from the EC had already been dropped at his home. But critics faulted this saying Besigye had a right to pick documents from wherever he wants to. FDC party leader Gen Mugisha Muntu (retired) who The London Evening Post found seated outside their offices in downtown Kampala was just pondering over their move before he regretted the police brutality cast upon his party members. He was forced to cancel the days’ scheduled press conference. FDC’s women wing leader Ingrid Turinawe told The London Evening Post that Besigye’s arrest was aimed at preventing him from gathering evidence that he would use to challenge what she termed as a ‘stolen election’. “They should leave him to be free because he has only 14 days to petition court therefore he has to collect evidence,” she lamented.
In a statement he issued soon after the election results were announced last Saturday, Dr Besigye had called for the immediate independent auditing of the February 18 elections, claiming that what the country’s electoral body declared seemed to have had a lot of anomalies during the declarations of the official and the several updates of results that were announced by the EC chairman Dr Badru Kiggundu. Besigye has since claimed that what was announced was so different from what his poling agents had. On election day, he had invaded a private house at Naguru, a house he claims he received information was the” designated” security office that was used as a parallel tallying centre from where it was alleged results were being fed to the national tally centre that had been placed inside Namboole National rather than sending results from districts. Since that day Besigye has been haunted and has been arrested four times and his house was invaded by the military not to let him free or associate with other people in the public.
The Uganda police has since claimed that the house Besigye claims was used as a parallel tally center had been installed by police to gather communication. “We are going to lodge a complaint against him for trespass and assaulting our police officer,” said Patrick Onyango reacting to Besigye’s complaints. On Besigye’s arrival at the said house, several men fled the house in panic. Besigye insists he has evidence to prove that the house he is complaining of had ballot boxes. “What connections does ballot boxes have to do with communication installment?” he asked.
The Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura told the media that Besigye must follow the laws of the country if he is to have peace. “He is not so special he must abide by the laws of the country”. He however didn’t show what law the opposition leader had broken by leaving his house to go to the EC to collect supporting evidence that would help him build his case before the Supreme Court. The Ugandan constitution gives him just 10 days after an election result has been announced to challenge the results. He now has just six days left to do that and no one knows how long the siege at his how will go on for. Police have since claimed they have received information that Besigye was being funded by some countries to destabilize the country by contesting the presidential results.
In the meantime, Medi Kaggwa who chairs the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has come out to ask government to restrain its acts against Besigye. Speaking to the media Tuesday at his offices in Kampala, Kaggwa said the continued harassment of Dr Besigye was a direct abuse of human rights. He said the rights of Besigye had been continuously violated and abused with the siege of his house by police and military and by the arrests, the stopping of his movements and being taken to distant police detention centres without preferring any case against him. “If he has a case [to answer] let him be tried so as everyone knows and be taken to prison,” Kaggwa said. The UHRC asserted that the conducts of the EC showed that it was not prepared to manage the elections where poling materials were delayed in many polling stations, areas like Mbale where the intimidation of voters was quite visible, while in Rwampala multiple voting was visible, he claimed.
Kaggwa was seconded by Muhamad Ndifuna, the executive director Human Rights Network Uganda, who told the media Tuesday that police and the army had not only violated Besigye’s rights alone but many people in the country had experienced the same when government decided during the elections to deploy the army everywhere, mostly in urban centres where the public came under severe tension. He said the election had been put to another level where the public couldn’t independently decide on the leader of their choice. In a report about the elections, his organisations claimed that held 62 per cent of polling stations they visited revealed that people were still voting at 7pm whereas polling was supposed to end at 4pm. It added that 41 per cent of polling stations countrywide started elections very late. The report further says Kampala, Wakiso and Fort Portal elections were not by secret ballot while the biometric technology failed and that in many areas, people had pre-ticked ballot papers where people were claiming to be helping ‘disabled relatives’.
And to compound these claims, Justice Julian Sebutinde who seats on the International Court of Justice, asked government to let Besigye free so as he may build his case. “The constitution must be followed,” she was quoted as saying. “Besigye has to be let free to collect evidence to support his case”. She also added voice to the rest of the public that the continued heavy deployment of the army in the city was creating panic among the public.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party spokesperson Kenneth Paul Kakande has announced that his party was engaging other political parties to rise up and call upon government to release Dr Besigye. Kakande condemned the continued arrests and siege of the homes of Besigye and Amama Mbabazi. “You can’t cheat a man and continue isolating him. That is madness,” Kakande told the media at DP headquarters Kampala.
Commenting for the first time since the end of the elections, the EC spokesperson Jotham Talemwa said the electoral commission was set to deliver the much contested tally sheets to all presidential candidates so as they compare notice. “We have decided to prepare tally sheets as were read out to be delivered to the offices of all presidential candidates to remove doubt that we announced wrong results,” he said, before adding that any candidate who wished to have elaborate answers regarding the election results must write to the EC which would consider their request.
Commenting on the elections, the EU EOM accused the EC for failing Ugandans who it claimed had shown a remarkable commitment to participate in the recently concluded Ugandan elections. Addressing the press soon after Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner, the EU EOM’s Chief Observer Eduard Kukan said the use of teargas by the Uganda Police during the election and the late delivery of election materials to voters in various elections centres as unacceptable. He declared that the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM)’s ‘domination of the political landscape had distorted the fairness of the campaign and state actors created an intimidating atmosphere for both voters and candidates’.
Mr Kukan said while the tallying process in the majority of cases had been described as slow, yet it was calm. “However, the environments outside district tallying centres [was] tense, with teargas being used by police in several locations.” He castigated the Ugandan Police Force (UPF) for storming the offices of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) using teargas against the occupants of the FDC headquarters while arresting the party’s leadership including its flag bearer Dr Kizza Besigye. “This extensive use of police force was unacceptable,” Mr Kukan noted.
The African Union’s Election Observation Mission (AU EOM) noted that in compliance with the legal provisions, the media covered political parties and candidates’ manifestos and campaigns. However, it noted that stakeholders felt that the state media provided more coverage to the incumbent president and his party, at the expense of the opposition. It was further reported that private media provided a fairly balanced reporting on all parties and candidates. Besides the mainstream print and electronic media, campaigning was carried out on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. The AU EOM noted general concerns following the shutdown of social media platforms, by the Uganda Communication Commission from Election Day citing security concerns. It noted concerns raised by interlocutors with regard to the recruitment, training and deployment of community policing units called Crime Preventers, which they alleged were misused to intimidate opposition parties.
The AU EOM was however informed by the police that these were purely crime prevention units at community level with no arresting powers. The AU EOM further noted the lack of trust in security agencies by some opposition parties, which were reported to have created counter units. It further noted concerns raised by interlocutors with regard to the recruitment, training and deployment of community policing units called Crime Preventers, which they alleged were misused to intimidate opposition parties.