The European Union (EU) delegation in Uganda has expressed concern over the tense environment in the past few days created by government which they say border on infringement of fundamental freedom of expression. The EU said in a statement on Thursday that developments in and around Kampala in the build up to Parliament’s discussion on the lifting of Presidential age limit could damage the country’s international reputation.
Over 40 people including the Kampala mayor Erias Lukwago, FDC’s Ingrid Turinawe, DP President Norbert Mao and several students of Makerere University were arrested in Kampala on Thursday during protests against the removal of the constitutional age cap. Police and military had early Thursday deployed heavily around Parliament and the Constitutional Square to keep protesters away.
In separate events, police earlier in the week besieged two civil society organizations suspected to have received ‘illicit funds’ for purposes of unlawful activities.
“We are deeply concerned about the build up of tension in and outside Kampala that might lead to infringing the fundamental freedoms of Ugandan citizens and damage the country’s international reputation,” a statement from the EU Delegation in Uganda said.
The statement was endorsed by European Union countries; UK, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Iceland.
“We monitor closely and with concern the most recent reports of cases of arrests and actions targeting NGOd and political activists.”
The EU condemned the “inflammatory language” used in debating issues of national interest, in recent days regarding the contentious constitutional amendments. They say the debate should be held in an open and inclusive manner.
“We call on the Ugandan authorities to guarantee fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly enshrined in the Ugandan constitution which in particular provides the rights of all citizens to fully express their civil and political rights without fear or intimidation,” the EU said.
The appeal from the EU came hours after the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda H.E. Deborah Malac made a similar call to government criticizing violation of freedom of expression.
However, in response, government dismissed Ambassador Malac’s concerns as “misplaced”.
The government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said; “Government through its law enforcement agencies can not sit back as misguided people, especially opposition politicians and civil society leaders, intimidate elected MPs and the wider public simply because they don’t hold the same views as theirs on any matter.”
Regarding the incidents involving NGOs, government said that there are stipulated laws which deem receiving money from undisclosed sources illegal.