Uganda Police Brutality May Undermine 2016 Vote, Group Says

Updated on
  • Human Rights Watch warns of abuses before presidential vote
  • Presidential contender Kizza Besigye arrested on Thursday

Ugandan police brutality against government opponents risks undermining the credibility of the East African nation’s 2016 elections, Human Rights Watch said, shortly before a presidential contender was arrested for planning to attend rallies.

Arrests of opposition activists and dispersals of their gatherings deny the population the right to hear divergent views, Maria Burnett, a senior Africa researcher with the New York-based advocacy group, said in an e-mailed statement.

President Yoweri Museveni, who’s ruled the nation now on the cusp of oil production for nearly three decades, is seeking to beat opponents such as his former allies Amama Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye in polls scheduled for February.

“Ultimately, until Ugandans can freely assemble, hear divergent views, and weigh how to use their vote without fear of teargas, bullets, and batons, the freedom and fairness of Uganda’s elections will be in question,” Burnett said.

Police made a “preventative arrest” of Besigye and his Forum for Democratic Change party spokesman on Thursday because the two had planned to lead rallies in the eastern towns of Jinja and Iganga, deputy police spokeswoman Polly Namaye said by phone. The force isn’t “partisan,” and was carrying out its “mandate of ensuring security in the country,” she said.

Rally Blocked

Police blocked a planned opposition rally in western Uganda on Oct. 10 and assaulted a female opposition member, she said. The attack drew widespread condemnation. Authorities say opposition gatherings are a threat to public peace and the official campaigning season only begins in November.

Museveni, 71, has led Africa’s biggest coffee exporter since January 1986. He ruled for the first 10 years without elections and subsequently won four five-year terms.

The International Monetary Fund on Oct. 5 cut its Ugandan economic-growth forecast to 5 percent for the 12 months through June 2016, citing global shocks and saying nervousness over the elections had contributed to a sharp decline in the Ugandan shilling.

“Uganda police brutality has played out countless times, often before televised cameras,” Burnett said. “While there has been plenty of condemnation, ultimately nothing changes.”

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