Professor John-Jean Barya of Makerere University has criticised police in Uganda for what he called abuse of the public order management laws while dealing with political parties.
Prof. Barya, from Makerere Law School, was today delivering a Keynote titled “Elections in Uganda – the political, institutional and legal context” at the Annual Convention organized by the Department of Journalism and Communication.
He said the Public Order and Management Act has been abused by the police to clampdown the opposition political party activities.
This year’s Media Convention 2017 was organized under the theme “Media and Governance in emerging democracies and hybrid regimes: Reporting on Elections in the East African Region 2005-2017”.
He noted that the 2013 public order law, one of the laws related to media coverage of elections in the country, is the most problematic, as a result of its partisan enforcement by the police.
Prof. Barya said that most lay observers believe that the police prevents public meetings and gatherings of political parties contrary to the provisions of the law.
Section 4 of the Act defines “public meeting” as “a gathering, assembly, procession or demonstration in a public place or premises held for purposes of discussing, acting upon, petitioning or expressing views on a matter of public interest”
However, a public body itself includes government or any department of government, a local government, a body established by the Constitution or an act of Parliament, a registered political party or political organisation or a registered trade union as indicated under the same law.
“It is very clear therefore that a political party is supposed to be exempted in its political gatherings, meetings and public assemblies from the operation of this Act. This is because a public rally, public procession or meeting or even demonstration is a normal and lawful purpose or activity of a political party,” Prof. Barya states.
He added that the police officers simply disperse or prevent the holding of public meetings, processions or gatherings under Section 8 of the Act without enquiring whether political parties are supposed to be regulated by police in their “public meetings”.
“In other words the problem is not the law but the abuse of the law by police,” he emphasised.
He argued that at the time of the making of the 1995 Constitution a political consensus had been reached, although there were some contentious issues still subsisting. And that what has happened since 2003-2004 has been a concerted effort by the NRM government to roll back that consensus.
He warned that the political consequences of such a roll-back will most likely mean instability in Uganda.