By Morgan Apollo Muhindo
At 5am Wednesday, November 18, I went through my usual morning routine unaware today would be no ordinary day. I read an excerpt from the book I have been reading all month. I took a glass of hot water as doctors recommend. Looked through my day’s tasks and headed out to work.
Mid morning through my day, I had a moment and decided to catch up with the news. Uganda seemed to have turned upside down in the few hours I had been disconnected. Blaring on the web and microblogs was an event I had not anticipated: the arrest of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine.
Outside my office, I could hear boda boda riders honking their horns, a soundtrack to shouts for, “Free Bobi Wine.” That shout was becoming a chorus online and outside my office. The chants were passing outside our offices and I knew what was next.
Police and the military swung in action! As our security officers shuttered windows and locked doors, we could not escape the smell of teargas or unhear the bullets zinging in the air. We sneezed, we coughed, we reached for water bottles to dab our eyes, business stopped!
Online, I began to see videos of curious Ugandans being shot at by security operatives for trying to film what was happening on the street. Being inside a building, away from the street, on a veranda was no guarantee you were safe. Shopping arcades had become death grounds too! Not just the street anymore.
Twitter, Facebook and some TV screens were chokeful of appalling scenes of violence and a fight for the narrative over what was happening on the streets from Kampala to Gulu. For two days, people shared photos and videos of the dead and dying, the injured and bloody as security battled to quell the demonstrations until Robert Kyagulanyi was released.
Supporters of Robert Kyagulanyi rallied under the hashtag #FreeBobiWine and #StopPoliceBrutality. Government apologists countered with #StopHooliganism. We are still unpacking who was right, who was wrong and what we could have done differently as a nation.
For starters, the supreme law of this country gives Police powers under Article 212 to among others protect lives and property, keep law and order. These powers are never in dispute. The only question is always on how they are exercised after balancing their exercising with the obligatory duty to respect, uphold and promote human rights guaranteed in the Bill of rights.
In handling the demonstrations, or assemblies, the Police are supposed to presume them peaceful and facilitate them. However, violent demonstrations have no fortification of the 1995 Constitution, a meagre apprehension of violence is not enough reason to halt the assembly. The Constitutional Court of this land in Human Rights Network Uganda & 4 Others V A.G Constitutional Petition 56 of 2013, Justice Elizabeth Musoke, held among others that, Violence by some protestors should not lead to the dispersal of the demonstration, the Police is supposed to apprehend violent elements and charge them according to the laws.
But peaceful demonstrations should not be stopped because of a few actions of criminality by the protestors, Justice Kenneth Kakuru emphasized in the above petition that, it is the nature and price of democracy that in the enjoyment of rights and freedoms, there will be a likelihood of negative impact on other people’s rights. He concluded that the contention that public assemblies which include spur-of-the-moment as the ones we had in Kampala and other areas of this country should be stopped because they would disrupt business, traders or commerce has no basis at all, this conclusion reverberates Justice Elizabeth Musoke’s conclusion that, It is not for Police to decide where the protests or demonstrations should be held.
With all fairness, the disproportionate actions by of Police officers and her sister forces of indiscriminately shooting at demonstrators and other people going about their business around the country, yet with very many options at their disposal was prohibitive and not regulatory of demonstrations. The right to assembly should not be unjustifiably throttled through methods that are contrary to constitutionally guaranteed tests and imperatives.
By Morgan Apollo Muhindo
Human rights Lawyer at Kiiza & Mugisha Advocates.
Email: [email protected]