Uganda: Constitutional Court annulls an article in law used to prohibit protests

The repeal of certain parts of the Ugandan Public Order Act, which gave the police excessive powers to ban public gatherings and protests, is a ray of hope for the country’s crippled human rights activists, defenders and political opposition. On March 26, the Ugandan Constitutional Court declared Article 8 of the Public Order Administration Act 2013 illegal and unconstitutional.

This law has been used for years as a tool of repression in Uganda, so the court ruling represents positive progress in human rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the country.

Debrose Muchina, Eastern and Southern Africa Director at Amnesty International

This law has been used for years as a tool of repression in Uganda, so the court ruling represents a positive advance for the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the country. In application of this law, the police brutally dispersed spontaneous demonstrations and opposition rallies, and beat and arrested opposition political figures merely for exercising their rights, ”said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director of East and South Africa.

“The Ugandan legislature must go one step further and completely repeal the Public Order Administration Act, which is completely inconsistent with the constitution, as well as end the constant harassment and intimidation suffered by people exercising their rights solely with the aim of holding the 2021 elections.”

The Ugandan legislature must go one step further and completely repeal the Public Order Administration Act, which is completely inconsistent with the constitution.

Debrose Muchina, Eastern and Southern Africa Director at Amnesty International

Article 8 of the Public Order Administration Law gives the chief of police broad powers to prevent or stop public gatherings organized by opposition political figures and suppress demonstrations.

Police used this law to ban and disperse gatherings organized by opposition politician Kizza Besigye prior to the 2016 elections, and more recently to ban gatherings and concerts organized by opposition musician and MP Bobby Wayne (whose real name is Robert Kyagolani).

The appeal that led to this ruling was filed by the Constitutional Court in December 2013 by various human rights groups, including the Uganda Human Rights Network, the Indigenous Voluntary Associations Development Network, the Ugandan Association of Women Lawyers and Chapter Four. The Public Order Administration Act entered into force on November 20, 2013.

On January 6, 2020, the Ugandan police arrested opposition politician Bobby Wayne and fired tear gas at his supporters at a political rally he organized. The police spokesperson claimed that the focus was dispersed by failure to follow the guidelines stipulated in the Public Order Management Act.

Bobby Wayne and four other people were charged under the Public Order Management Act for protesting tax on social networks and mobile payments in July 2018.

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