Uganda: Museveni’s proposal to amend Constitution condemned

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s proposal to amend the Constitution to deny bail to individuals involved in demonstrations and the ambiguous proposed crime of economic sabotage has attracted condemnation from both critics and loyalists.Scholars, lawyers, politicians and the media say the proposal would curtail freedom of expression and other fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Museveni   announced  the move to amend the Constitution and the Penal Code in the wake of the wake of the walk to work protests called by the opposition to rally the population over the government’s failure to address rising food and fuel prices. He was disturbed that many of the people he called “rioters”, including the opposition leaders leading the protests, were granted bail by the courts following their arrests.  Museveni also accused local and international media houses of sabotage and said they should be treated like criminals. “The media houses both local and international such as Al-jazeera, BBC, NTV, The Daily Monitor, etc., that cheer on these irresponsible people are enemies of Uganda’s recovery and they will have to be treated as such,” he said. But most analysts who have spoken out have condemned the President’s designs. The President of the Uganda Law Society, Mr. James Sebugenyi in an opinion published in the  New Vision, newspaper said, “The proposal will create legislation directed to particular citizens with a deliberate aim to encroach on their rights which is contrary to the cardinal principle of rule of law.” Article 23(6) of the Ugandan Constitution provides “Anyone arrested is entitled to apply to the court to be released on bail and the court may grant that person bail on such conditions as the court considers reasonable.” The spokesperson of the ruling National Resistance Movement, Mr Ofwono Opondo, also parted ways with his boss and said the proposed constitutional amendment and legislation would be in bad faith and would go against the party’s own fundamental principles as a “revolutionary and liberation organisation”. “It should be rejected, and the new parliament must rise to stop manoeuvres that could create repression,” Mr Opondo wrote in the  Sunday Vision ,He added, “Museveni’s proposal would in effect curtail freedoms, and individual liberties, bridle and constrain judicial independence and the net result could be the erosion of constitutionalism and democracy, which are both a negation of NRM’s fundamental principles of national liberation as a revolutionary organisation .“It is, therefore, my personal very well considered opinion that Museveni reconsiders these measures, and should he insist then it will be the duty of NRM to stop him using all the appropriate and legitimate processes available within the party organs and Parliament. We all know that the on-going opposition activities are a nuisance but that should not be fought by imposing derogation of popular and desirable constitutional rule.” In an editorial on Monday, the New Vision, in which the government owns majority shares, also urged “caution on the crime of economic sabotage as it is not well defined,” “it is broad and can be abused”. Writing alongside Mr. Opondo, opposition Member of Parliament Wafula Oguttu who is also the Spokesperson of the Forum for Democratic Change said, “With the proposed constitution amendment, the President wants to criminalise peaceful demonstrations which are another form of expressions of citizens. He is using his office to take away citizens’ rights because exercising those rights threatens his continued hold onto power.” Prof. Joe Oloka-Onyango, a professor of law at Makerere University, in an opinion piece published by  The Observer  and  Daily Monitor  that Museveni’s proposal would be a further restriction on the rights to speak, associate and demonstrate. “If the automatic right to bail is removed, it will affect several other rights, such as freedom of movement, the right to life (in its broadest sense), freedom of speech, and many others,” he said. “It will also run against both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution, which reminds us to “recall our history” of tyranny and dictatorship in order not to repeat it.”  Writing in his weekly column in the  Saturday Monitor ACME’s Director of Programmes, Mr. Bernard Tabaire, said the “Media must not cave in to this presidential bullying either for business or other considerations. To do so would be to allow autocracy to flourish.” Reporters without Borders also came out strongly against the proposed amendment saying  it could be used to imprison journalists accused of scaring away potential tourists and investors through their coverage of processions that later turn violent. “We ask the government to reconsider the amendment. President Museveni clearly has journalists in his sights, RWB statement reads.

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