From Christine Acen in Kampala
Human rights activists are criticising the manner at which police reacted to the opposition protesters on Monday. Mr. Ssewanyana of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative said that the protests were genuinely carried out and added that “the most important thing is whether the people are feeling the pinch and yet they don’t see the state taking any action or measures. What we want is a responsive state and not a state fighting protesters”.
Following Monday’s walk to work protest organised by the opposition leaders, the police brutally arrested opposition strongmen who walked to work. FDC leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye left his home in Kasangati with two aides and walked past the first group of police officers moving in the opposite direction who said nothing to him, he then moved on and met another group of police officers moving in the opposite direction and they moved past him but one of them came back and stopped him and asked him why he is walking to work and asked him to use the means he uses daily. According to Besigye, he told the policeman that “Nobody has a right to stop me from going to earn. You earn from my taxes.”
At this point, a group of policemen surrounded him and threw him on the stand by police truck and took him to Kasangati Police station where he was detained. While on the truck, Rev.Fr. Anthony Musaaala prayed to God for him and others who were being oppressed and said that Uganda is on the cross and will be crucified. In his prayer, he said that Jesus came to set the prisoners and the oppressed free and prayed for the country too asking for apology. On reaching kasangati police station, Besigye refused to alight and was carried out of the police truck into the police station.
He was later taken to Kasangati Magistrates court to answer charges preferred against him (inciting violence which included blocking the road, disobeying police orders and throwing stones at security). His lawyer, David Mpanga appeared with sureties and was released on bail. After his release, he addressed a crowd narrating to them his story. He told them:
“when I walked to work, I got police blocking the road and I asked them whether I was committing any offence. They said no but said that my walk causes incitement. I told them that I was going to work and they told me that I should use the means I normally use to go to work so I told them that I had a right to choose what means I use to go to work. I also don’t tell people to walk to work but some did. You have seen some people drive to work, some rode to work but some chose to work and no one asked them to walk to work”.
Besigye went on to tell the crowd waiting for him outside the court that:
“when I got to court, I was charged with two offenses: the first one is ‘why I sat on the road’ and the second one is ‘why I walked to work’.
He told the crowd that they will walk to work on Tuesday and that on Thursday there will be a countrywide walk to work.
Conservative leader, Ken Lukyamuzi was placed under house arrest while Democratic Party Leader, Nobert Mao was picked shortly after. Mao said that his team was tear gassed and the police used an unnecessary high level of force to disperse a peaceful crowd. At first, Mao agreed with the police to sit in the truck but later ran though not for long. When he was arrested, he demanded to know under what law he was being held. He was arrested together with his publicist and taken to Kira Road Police Station. Olara Otunnu, the Uganda People’s Congress party leader, arrived at the police station shortly after but he too was denied access. His supporters gathered around the police station and lost patience while waiting for their leader and got involved in running battles with the police. Later in the evening, Mao and others arrested were taken to Kampala City Council Court but the magistrate dismissed charges against them and released them.
Others arrested and charged with unlawful society and disturbance of public peace and order included Wafula Oguttu, Jack Sabitti, Abdu Katuntu, Busingye Phiona, Kansiime Peace. A journalist was also injured in the scuffle involving police spokesperson, Judith Nabakoba and journalist photographers who said they were being pushed and harassed by police.
Last week, the opposition made a call to the public asking them to walk to word in protest against the escalating commodity and fuel prices and the mismanagement of public finances. Uganda has reported a rise in the inflation rate from 6.4% to 11.1% and yet the country has set a budget of 4 billion for the swearing-in of President Museveni to another five-year term of office and also the UgShs1.7 trillion purchase of fighter jets. A team of opposition MPs now say they want to take a physical visit to the Bank of Uganda chauffeurs to ascertain how much money is left at the basement since the government is saying there is no money. Following the call to walk to work, the Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen Kale Kayihura has warned the public against participating in such a walk. Kayihura said that “We do not know where they are starting from and we do not know where they are going. This protest is unlawful and not authorised by police”. Kayihura again addressed the public at media house on Monday afternoon making contradictions (about where his source of information regarding how the police got to know whether the opposition was about to commit a crime) but said that the role of the police was to protect the people and ensure that the protest does not cause inconvenience to others and cause public disorder.
Meanwhile, Aruu county MP, Odonga-Otto completed a 9 km walk from his home to Christ the King church where he walked in and joined the others for mass. He later went to Kasangati where Besigye was held but was hit by a rubber bullet in the neck and sustained minor injury. He was admitted to hospital, treated and discharged thereafter.
The police now control protests in Uganda and require that anybody intending to peacefully demonstrate has to seek police permission. The pending Public Order and Management Bill, 2009 sought to give police a lot of power including:
- Reintroducing provisions of the Police Act, Cap 303 which were nullified by the Constitutional Court in the case of Muwanga Kivumbi v. The Attorney General of Uganda (Constitutional Petition No. 9/05);
- Is contrary to Article 92 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda, which prohibits the enactment of legislation designed to defeat or overturn a judicial ruling;
- Grants the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Minister of Internal Affairs wide discretionary and unjustifiable powers over the management of public meetings;
- Places numerous extensive and impractical obligations on the organizers of public meetings, which are impossible to satisfy, and
- Seeks not only to regulate the conduct of public meetings but extends to regulate the content of the discussion of issues at such meetings, in contravention of the right to freedom of speech.