Uganda Repression: Activists Face 14 Years Imprisonment For Petitioning Government
Is it inciting violence when three citizens demand that government explain why it is not upholding the Constitution --the supreme document of the Republic of Uganda; or is inciting violence when government arrest three activists for making just demands?
In Uganda the repression continues to escalate -- three activists have been charged by the government with inciting violence and face 14 years in prison simply for trying to ask an official a question.
The arrests of the Ugandan human and civil rights activist Barbara Allimadi with two other activists Alan Kitonsa and Isma Mutebi were arrested and charged on Friday January 18th.
The three, who were joined by fellow activists, had met in front of Uganda House in Kampala, where they were to address the press and then cross over to the Ministry of Justice to hand over their Petition to the Attorney General asking that the government uphold Article 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. The petition in part read:
"A Constitution is a Supreme Document and law by which a people are governed. It guarantees right to life, property, freedom of assembly and expression. The government, as is the president obliged to uphold the Constitution.
'Article 4 of the Constitution provides that: "The state shall promote public awareness of this constitution by -
(a) translating it into Ugandan languages and disseminating it as widely as possible; and (b) providing for the teaching of the constitution in all educational institutions and armed forces training institutions and regularly transmitting and publishing programmes through the media generally."
18 years later, the Government has not fulfilled Article 4 and we demand that government immediately starts a program to educate the people about their rights, to disseminate the Constitution and to translate it into Ugandan languages and make it available widely.'"
The three activists were detained at the Central Police Station (CPS) for six hours, merely for attempting to hand over a petition to a government official who is supposed to represent the citizens. They were compelled to make a statement and were then released on police bond and are required to report back on February 11th 2013.
There was footage on national TV channels showing police officers snatching the Petition away from Allimadi as well as pushing and shoving her during the arrest as is now customary with a force that is fast becoming one of the most brutal and undisciplined force in the world.
Many of them are unclear of what their duties are: as police officers they may not even be aware of the contents of the Constitution. They often exercise unnecessary and excessive force during arrests of unarmed civilians no matter what the offense or perceived offense is. The same manner of arrest is also meted out to opposition leaders and peaceful demonstrators merely exercising their right to peaceful assembly as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.
Yet major countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States continue to support the repressive Ugandan regime.
The citizenry has lost all faith and confidence in this very political and unprofessional police force.
It is still unclear how the police got wind of the Activists intention to serve the Petition on the Attorney General. Could it be the press or even perhaps some fellow "activists" doubling as paid informers? Indeed the police were at the location even before media.
One thing that is certain is that the life of an activist in Uganda is a dangerous and complicated one. Their greatest fear surely must be whom to trust? Barbara Allimadi reports that even whilst at the CPS, the police asked one of the detained activists to become an informer.
The police wanted to know more about the "People Power Uganda; One voice" campaign. They threatened to ban it like A4C, a previous activist campaign. "I reminded them that people power is not a group," Barbara Allimadi says, "but a worldwide concept, where the people exercise their power peacefully to demand for what is rightfully theirs."
Allimadi read part of the Petition to the assembled members of the press even as she was forcefully led away to the police truck. A copy of the Petition was also given to NTV News who asked for a response from the government.
Ironically, The Minister of Information Mary Okurut did respond to the media: she said that the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party was holding a retreat in Kyankwanzi, to address such concerns, as to how to disseminate the Constitution to the public, which is precisely the issue Barbara Allimadi and her colleagues raised in the Petition. So why did the police arrest them in the first place? Why do they have a pending court date when it is the government that has questions to answer?
Why has taken so long to implement such a vital provision in the Constitution -- translating the constitution into Uganda's various languages and disseminating it widely; educating the public and the armed forces and educational institutions; and publishing programs about it in media generally. Many Ugandans are still waiting for the 10-point program unveiled by President Yoweri Museveni when he seized power 26 years ago to be implemented.
Could fear of an empowered citizenry be the reason why the government has failed to uphold the provisions of article 4 of Uganda's Constitution? Fear of the masses being sensitized and informed and made aware of their rights, including of peaceful free assembly and freedom of expression enshrined within the Constitution? Fear that the citizenry will demand delivery of services --including basic medicines in hospitals and books in schools? Fear that the citizenry will finally realize that it is the government that is servant of the people and not the other way around?
The "inciting violence" charge leveled against the three activists --Allimadi, Kitonsi and Mutebi-- carries with it a penalty of 14 years imprisonment.
The citizens of Uganda, friends of Uganda and defenders of democracy worldwide must demand that the Ugandan Court define what "inciting violence" is. Is it inciting violence when three citizens demand that government explain why it is not upholding the Constitution --the supreme document of the Republic of Uganda; or is inciting violence when government arrest three activists for making just demands?
The people of Uganda must embody the concept of people power in order that they may be free and safe.
The government is obligated to adhere to article 4 of the Constitution. The Attorney General must answer the peoples' petition.
"Speaking Truth To Empower."
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