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Uganda: Election run up marred by arrests, harassment and torture of opposition

Ugandan police have arbitrarily arrested political opposition leaders, used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful demonstrations and tortured opposition supporters, a new Amnesty International report published today has found.

The report, based on 88 interviews including senior police officers and torture victims, documents how the Ugandan police are selectively applying national laws governing freedom of assembly to unfairly target the political opposition, activists and other individuals aligned with them. This is preventing Ugandans from receiving information and engaging with politicians in the run-up to elections scheduled for 18 February 2016.

Muthoni Wanyaki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa said:

“All Ugandans must be free to attend political rallies and engage with candidates, regardless of their political affiliations.

“The Ugandan authorities must put an immediate end to the harassment and torture of political opponents and urgently, thoroughly and transparently investigate the use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators. Anyone found responsible for these violations must be brought to justice.”

Amnesty is calling on the Ugandan government to allow all its citizens to engage in political rallies, listen to candidates, and freely express their views, regardless of their political affiliation.

Amnesty also urges the Government of Uganda to issue guidelines on policing assemblies that comply with international standards.

Arrest of opposition Presidential candidates

On 9 July two leading political opposition presidential candidates – Kizza Besigye and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi - were put under “preventive arrest.” Although they were released on the same day, their arrests prevented them from holding planned consultations with voters.

At the time of their arrests, they were in talks with other political leaders to form an umbrella group known as The Democratic Alliance (TDA) under which they planned to field one joint candidate to face President Yoweri Museveni at the polls.

Use of torture

Six days later, Vincent Kaggwa, the spokesman for a group allied to Amama Mbabazi, was arrested in Kampala, and held incommunicado for four days. The police refused to disclose his whereabouts to his wife for the duration of his detention. When he was eventually released, he said police had ordered him to undress and sprayed him with high-pressure cold water from a hose pipe directed at his lower abdomen, causing him intense pain. Amnesty considers that Vincent Kaggwa was subjected to enforced disappearance and torture.

Amama Mbabazi’s head of security, Christopher Aine, was arrested in Kampala on 14 September. He claims to have been hit with iron bars and canes while in detention. When Amnesty interviewed him on the day after his release, his body was covered in cuts and bruises and showed evidence of torture.

Tear gas and rubber bullets fired into peaceful gatherings

The police have frequently used excessive force to break up political gatherings organised by political opposition parties. A video obtained by Amnesty shows police hurling tear gas canisters and indiscriminately firing rubber bullets into a peaceful crowd in the town of Soroti.

To justify their abusive activities, the police cite the Public Order Management Act, a controversial law that imposes wide-ranging restrictions on public meetings, including the requirement that organisers notify the police in advance.

Under international law, the right to freedom of assembly states that authorities should not use excessive force to break up peaceful assemblies even if they consider them to be unlawful.

Muthoni Wanyeki said:

“The authorities must take action to rein in the police in the run up to the elections and ensure that their actions conform to both national and international standards.”  

For a copy of the report visit -



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