Police Criticized for Selective Application of Public Order Law

2528 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
Andrew Karamagi, an activist who organized the Free My Vote Campaign said police foiled all of the meetings. Police often cites limited personnel for security, disruption of traffic flow, intelligence on plans to disrupt security and orders from above as reasons for thwarting the events.

Police is under criticism over the criterion used to grant clearance for public events under the Public Order Management Act. 

This follows the continuous disruption of a number of events, organised mainly by opposition politicians across the country. Last weekend, a meeting by the Acholi leaders in Gulu district was blocked on grounds that its organizers did not secure clearance from Police.

The main convener, Democratic Party president Norbert Mao says he met all the requirements stipulated under the law.

Article 5(1) of The Public Order Management Act 2013 requires all organizers of public events to give written notice at least three days but not more than 15 days before the proposed date of the public meeting. They are also expected to give an estimate of the estimated number of people for each gathering and the content of the meeting.

Police is expected to respond to the notice within 48 hours.

But police spokesperson Fred Enanga says politicians often fail to meet the requirements like notifying police within the stipulated time and declaring the number of people expected at the events.  He advises organizers to always wait for Police communication before convening for the planned meetings.

In the case of Mao, the notice was written on June 15 for a meeting scheduled to take place on June 19. He says he did not get a response from Police until Sunday when security took over the venue of the meeting.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Enanga however questions whether based on the then security situation in Gulu it was fit for the leaders to hold a rally. He was making reference to recent attacks on security installations in Gulu, where lives were lost and a number of guns stolen.
 
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But former Leader of Opposition in Parliament Wafula Oguttu says that police is implementing the law in favour of the ruling government while violating the rights of many Ugandans. He says police is using the law to suppress opposition.

Out of an estimated 30 notifications to police only about 4 were cleared during the FDC grassroots elections.

"There is no rule of law in Uganda. We discussed these matters thoroughly with government, but it has not listened to us. Some District Police Commanders and Resident District Commissioners have used their power to block opposition meetings, while NRM meetings are sanctioned," Oguttu says.

Isabella Akiteng, the coordinator of Green Light Movement, a youth led advocacy initiative says she has run over 15 meetings dubbed the situation in the country. All her meetings were cleared by police except one, where she was advised to cancel the meeting to avoid clashing with Dr Kizza Besigye who was campaigning in the same area.

She says she was able to secure approval within a space of one hour for all the other events.

Akiteng says she notified police in advance, declared the venue and number of people to 300,000 but also clearly stipulated the content of the discussion as "political but non-partisan. Akiteng adds that all her notifications are copied to the Inspector General of Police, DPCs and RDCs.

Andrew Karamagi, an activist who organized the Free My Vote Campaign said police foiled all of the meetings. Police often cites limited personnel for security, disruption of traffic flow, intelligence on plans to disrupt security and orders from above as reasons for thwarting the events. 

Richard Todwong, the NRM Secretary General says NRM always understands the fundamentals of the law and abides by it. He adds that NRM has also advised all its members to cooperate with the police whenever there is difficulty.

 

About the author

Alex Otto
“Journalism that changes lives is my goal,” Alex Otto has said on more than one occasion. That is his career’s guiding principle. Has been since he was a radio journalist in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu in 2009.

Otto passionately believes his journalism should bring to the fore the voices of the voiceless like the shooting victims of Apaa. Otto tries in his journalism to ask tough questions to those in positions of authority.

Based in the Kampala bureau, Otto is especially interested in covering agriculture, politics, education, human rights, crime, environment and business. He has reported intensively on the post-conflict situation in northern Uganda.

A URN staff member since 2014, Otto previously worked with The Observer Newspaper from 2012 to 2013 and later the Institute for War and Peace Reporting IWPR based in Gulu.

He was the URN Gulu bureau chief 2014-2016.