As restrictions on political space tighten and police continues to display a more hardline stance against political association, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu’s planned meet-and-greet gatherings are becoming quite dangerous.
Concerned by the persecution of his supporters, Kyadondo East MP has cancelled his People Power pressure group’s scheduled consultative meetings in the northern district of Gulu.
Kyagulanyi, who has already declared a presidential run in 2021, had scheduled his second consultative meeting with his supporters from Acholi region in Gulu on Tuesday. His ‘People Power’ activists had booked De Covenant, a hangout in Layibi Division in Gulu municipality to host the consultations.
But Kyagulanyi cancelled the meeting. He told journalists at his office in Kamwokya yesterday afternoon that his advance team had told him that their venue for the meeting had been sealed off by police and that majority of his supporters had been intimidated.
He however, said he will proceed with his consultations in Lira district today, Wednesday (today's meeting has also been declared illegal by security officers in the district). Kyagulanyi says police blocked their Gulu meeting on grounds that the venue was an open ground. According to Kyagulanyi, police conducted night raids and grabbed several documents and motorcycles from his supporters.
Busiiro East MP, Medard Lubega Sseggona who is also the group lead lawyer, said police has been asking organisers of Kyagulanyi’s consultative meetings to provide services, which should entirely be provided by the force.
Sseggona says police has since Monday arrested several activists and lawyers. He named Counsel, Shamim Malende who was reportedly arrested when she visited Kasangati police station to rescue colleagues. Joel Ssenyonyi, the group spokesperson, is still in police custody, according to the legislator.
According to Sseggona, there is no specific number of people that a presidential hopeful like Kyagulanyi is required to consult. He says police shouldn’t target Kyagulanyi because he has many supporters.
Benjamin Katana, a People Power lawyer, says when the group notified the Electoral Commission, they were cleared but urged to notify local authorities and police in the areas they will hold consultative meetings.
Katana says the police demand for Kyagulanyi’s group to produce firefighting equipment, traffic guides and sniffer dogs are not only unreasonable but also a lame excuse. He argues that citizens have already contributed to these requirements, which are in police control.
The Kira Division police commander, Micheal Kasigire who appeared with riot police at the venue of Kyagulanyi’s presser roundly denied the allegations leveled against the force. He says the group should prove their allegations if they are to be believed by the public.
In a statement issued on Monday, police spokesperson Fred Enanga said Kyagulanyi continues to show blatant disregard for the law, specifically the Public Order Management Act (POMA). Police says Kyagulanyi did not fully meet the requirements for holding consultations.
Kyagulanyi is expected to provide a traffic or assembly plan, public safety plan with ambulances and fire-fighting equipment, a demand he and his lawyers have rejected.
And civil society organisations (CSOs) under the National NGO Forum have demanded that courts of law should help clearly spell out the powers of the Police Force (UPF) under the Public Order Management Act (POMA).
According to CSOs, the act gives police ambiguous powers that need to be spelt out clearly. Their demand comes on the coat-tails of a police ban on political gatherings in private homes.
Charity Kalebbo Ahimbisibwe, the head of communication and advocacy at Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), says police often interpret POMA to suit partisan interests. According to Ahimbisibwe, police has used power to harm innocent Ugandans and that may negatively affect the 2021 general elections.
“After what happened yesterday, how do you expect women to confidently walk to the polls and cast a vote if a simple consultation meeting ends in death,” Ahimbisibwe asked.
The act, which came into force in 2013, has drawn sharp criticism mainly from opposition politicians. According to CSOs, if nothing is done to rein-in police, the forthcoming elections are likely to be violent. Henry Kasacca, the executive director of Dialogue and Democracy Training Center, says the current law gives police a lot of unchecked powers.
He says some of the conditions that police sets for those intending to hold public meetings are very unrealistic. Sarah Bireete, an associate director at the Center for Constitutional Governance, says something needs to be done to rein-in police because threats of future arrests for holding meeting are illegal.
Birete says that court needs to come out and make a ruling on the constitutionality of POMA.