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Uganda

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including due to torture. The law provides for several agencies to investigate, inquire into, and or prosecute unlawful killings by the security forces. Human rights campaigners, however, claimed these agencies were largely ineffective. The constitution established the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) to investigate any person or group of persons for violations of any human right (see section 5). The Police Disciplinary Court has the power to hear cases of officers who breach the police disciplinary code of conduct. Military courts have the power to hear cases against officers that break military law, which bars soldiers from targeting or killing nonmilitants.

Opposition activists, local media, and human rights activists reported that security forces killed individuals the government identified as dissidents and those who participated in protests against the government (see section 1.e). Opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, reported on February 24 that a Uganda Police Force (UPF) truck assigned to the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) killed his supporter Ritah Nabukenya. The UPF had deployed heavily in Kampala to block a Kyagulanyi political meeting with his supporters, and local media, citing eyewitness accounts, reported the police truck driver, upon seeing Nabukenya on a motorcycle taxi wearing red insignia associated with Kyagulanyi’s People Power political group, drove toward her, knocked down the motorcycle, and then ran over her. Later that day the UPF released a statement saying Nabukenya fatally injured herself when her motorcycle taxi collided with another motorcycle as it attempted to overtake the police truck. The UPF stated it would investigate what happened and promised to review the roadside CCTV as part of its investigations. Kyagulanyi demanded police release the CCTV footage of the incident, but on February 26, the UPF declared the cameras at the location were faulty and had failed to record the incident. At year’s end police had not revealed findings from its investigations.

On February 25, Kyagulanyi reported that as his motorcade drove through Nansana Town on his way back from Nabukenya’s funeral, an officer attached to the military’s Local Defense Unit (LDU) shot into a crowd of his supporters, killing 28-year-old Daniel Kyeyune. According to local media, a military spokesperson denied that an LDU officer was involved in the shooting and stated investigations had shown the assailant used a pistol, a firearm that he said LDU officers do not carry. On March 18, Kyagulanyi released amateur cellphone video footage, which showed an LDU officer firing straight into the crowd of Kyagulanyi’s supporters, after which Kyeyune can be seen on the ground. A military spokesperson, upon seeing the footage, cast doubt on the video’s authenticity, adding that the military would study it further. At year’s end the military had not released any findings from its investigations.

b. Disappearance

Local media reported several disappearances. Officials of the opposition National Unity Platform party (NUP) said they could not account for dozens of their supporters whom they said the security agencies had arrested while participating in party activities. The government neither acknowledged the persons were missing nor complied with measures to ensure accountability for disappearances. In addition, the UPF did not share any findings into the 2019 disappearance of Kyagulanyi supporter John Bosco Kibalama, who remained missing.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The law stipulates that any person convicted of an act of torture may receive a sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. The penalty for conviction of aggravated torture is life imprisonment. Nevertheless, there were credible reports security forces tortured and physically abused suspects.

Human rights organizations, opposition politicians, and local media reported that security forces tortured dissidents as punishment for their opposition to the government. On April 24, local television stations showed images of opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Francis Zaake receiving medical treatment at the Iran-Uganda hospital in Naguru. The UPF and Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) had arrested Zaake at his home in Mityana District on April 19, accusing him of violating COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings when he distributed food to his constituents. On May 6, Zaake told journalists that upon his arrest, UPF officers under the watch of Mityana District police commander Alex Mwine and regional police commander Bob Kagarura beat him with sticks and batons, kicked him on his head, and then tied his legs and hands to suspend him under the bench in the flatbed on a police pickup truck, which drove him to the headquarters of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) in Mbuya. He said CMI officials sprayed his eyes with an unknown liquid that created a sharp burning sensation, then later beat him with a stick bearing sharp objects that tore at his skin. He said UPF officers then drove him to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) offices in Kireka, where UPF officers kicked, slapped, and punched him while telling him to quit politics, quit opposing the government, and retire to business. Zaake said his health deteriorated further while in detention, and on April 22, the UPF drove him to the Iran-Uganda hospital in Naguru for treatment. According to a Ministry of Internal Affairs document, the Iran-Uganda hospital found that Zaake had “blunt injuries on the forehead, earlobes, right and left of the chest, right side flank, right upper arm, right wrist, lower lip, left leg, and left leg shin.” On April 27, a court in Kampala ordered the UPF to release Zaake or arraign him in court. That same day the UPF drove Zaake, dressed only in shorts and unable to walk, to a court in Mityana. UPF officers carried him on a stretcher into the courtroom where a magistrate declined to hear the charges against Zaake and ordered the UPF to take him to hospital for medical treatment. The UPF, however, drove Zaake back to the SIU, where they detained him for another night and then released him on April 28. On May 6, the minister for internal affairs concluded that Zaake must have inflicted his injuries on himself “by knocking himself on the metal of the UPF police pickup truck.” On May 7, Zaake sued CMI commander Abel Kandiho, Mityana police commander Alex Mwine, SIU commander Elly Womanya, and three others for abusing him. On September 3, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) exercised its constitutional right and took over Zaake’s private suit against the security officers. Zaake told local media on September 3 that the ODPP had taken over the case in order to exonerate his abusers by putting up a dispirited prosecution, which would lead the court to issue an acquittal. The trial continued at year’s end. The ODPP also dropped its charges against Zaake on August 6.

Civil society organizations and opposition activists reported that security forces arrested, beat, and killed civilians as punishment for allegedly violating regulations to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 18, the president announced restrictions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, which included an indefinite closure of all schools and a ban on religious gatherings, which he would later expand to include a nighttime curfew, restrictions on public and private transport, and a closure of nonessential business (see section 2.d.). The president instructed police and military to enforce the regulations. Local media reported LDU and UPF officers indiscriminately beat persons they found outside after the nighttime curfew with sticks, batons, and gunstocks, maiming some and killing others. On May 13, LDU officers shot primary school teacher Eric Mutasiga in the leg and chest, as he pleaded with the officers not to arrest his neighbor, whom the officers had found selling food three minutes into a nighttime curfew. On June 8, Mutasiga died of the gunshot wounds at Mulago hospital. The UPF stated it had arrested the LDU officers involved but declared Mutasiga was injured when he got into a scuffle with the security officers. At year’s end the UPF had not released details of its investigations into the killing. LDU and UPF personnel also attacked pregnant women who sought health care during periods when the government restricted use of public transport due to COVID-19.

On April 4, local media reported that on the night of April 3, UPF, LDU, and UPDF officers had raided a community in Elegu Town, driven dozens of persons out of their houses, beaten them with sticks and iron bars, and forced them to remove their clothes, roll in the dirt, and for some specifically to rub the dirt on their genitals, accusing them of violating the curfew. The UPDF and UPF released statements condemning the actions and promised to prosecute the officers involved. By year’s end the UPF and UPDF had not released findings from their investigations.

Impunity was a problem, and it was widespread in the UPF, UPDF, the Uganda Prisons Service (UPS), and the executive branch. The security forces did not take adequate measures to investigate and bring to account officers implicated in human rights abuses, especially in incidents involving members of the political opposition. The UPDF did not arrest or prosecute the LDU officer whom amateur cellphone video showed shooting into a crowd of opposition supporters and killing Daniel Kyeyune (see section 1.a.). Impunity was widespread because authorities gave political and judicial cover to officials who committed human rights violations. While speaking on November 29 about the November 18-19 protests, President Museveni directed police to investigate and audit the killings of 20 unarmed protesters struck by stray bullets, but not of the other 34 unarmed protesters, who he said were rioters (see section 1.e.). On August 22, President Museveni commended the UPDF’s Special Forces Command (SFC) officers who beat Kyagulanyi in August 2018. Speaking at a police recruits graduation ceremony, Museveni stated: “I found the man (Kyagulanyi) had been beaten properly, in the right way. He boxed them, and they also tried to box back until they subdued him. I was surprised that the SFC people acted properly; it was self-defense and beyond self-defense they didn’t beat. It was in order.” The government also provided legal services to police and prison officers facing charges of abuse in court. On September 23, the Attorney General’s Office sent one of its lawyers to defend UPS officer Philemon Woniala in a civil court case that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons filed against him in his individual capacity, accusing him of torture and inhuman treatment. The law bars government lawyers from defending officials sued in their individual capacity (see section 6). On July 20, the UPDF instituted human rights refresher training courses for its LDU officers to increase respect for human rights.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in detention centers remained harsh and in some cases life-threatening. Serious problems included overcrowding, physical abuse of detainees by security staff and fellow inmates, inadequate food, and understaffing. Reports of forced labor continued. Most prisons did not have accommodations for persons with disabilities. The government operated unofficial detention facilities where it detained suspects for years without charge.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding remained a problem. On August 7, the UPS reported its prison population had risen from 59,000 to 65,000 in four months after security forces arrested numerous individuals for defying COVID-19 restrictions. The UPS said this population was more than three times its capacity, although other data from the nongovernmental organization (NGO) World Prison Brief showed the prison detainees held were actually at 375 percent of prisons’ capacity.

Local NGOs and the UHRC declared overcrowding made the prisons a potential hotspot for the spread of COVID-19. On May 18, local media reported that some UPF posts kept male and female detainees in the same cell, and others kept adult detainees together with child detainees. On November 13, UPF officers in Oyam District arrested six NUP party officials for violating COVID-19 restrictions at an election campaign rally and detained both female and male officials in the same cell.

There were reports of deaths in prisons due to prison conditions. On February 20, local media reported that three pretrial detainees died in Atopi prison after they went to work on a prison farm despite reporting in the morning that they were ill. Prison authorities said they were carrying out postmortems to establish the causes of death but did not report the findings. Political prisoners faced different conditions from those of the general population. Zaake’s lawyers reported in April that UPF officers denied Zaake medical care.

Administration: Authorities did not always carry out investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. The local civil society organization Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum reported in June that UPS officials beat lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) detainees on account of their sexual orientation. UPS officials denied this and declined to investigate (see section 6). Local media and human rights activists reported that the UPF, UPDF, CMI, ISO, and UPS denied access to visitors for some detainees held at official and unofficial detention facilities (safe houses) (see section 6).

Independent Monitoring: The UPS reported in August that due to COVID-19 restrictions, it stopped visitors from accessing prison facilities. The UPS, however, reported that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it allowed the local civil society organization African Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims to conduct prison visits with advance notification; however, no independent monitors received access to any unregistered detention facilities or pretrial detention cells. The International Committee of the Red Cross declined to comment on whether it conducted prison visits during the year.

Improvements: The UPS reported in August that the president had pardoned 2,833 prisoners to decongest prisons and help prevent the spread of COVID-19, although this was only half the number of detainees that entered prison between March and August. The pardoned detainees largely comprised convicts of petty offenses serving less than two-year sentences, mothers of infants, and convicts older than age 60. The Ministry of Health donated four modern tuberculosis-testing machines to the UPS, which improved the prisons’ capacity to quickly diagnose and treat the disease.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, security forces often arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, especially opposition leaders, politicians, activists, demonstrators, journalists, LGBTI persons, and members of the general population accused of violating COVID-19 restrictions. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but this mechanism was seldom employed and rarely successful.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect this provision. Corruption, understaffing, inefficiency, and executive-branch interference with judicial rulings often undermined the courts’ independence. Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo repeatedly decried the shortage of judges and criticized parliament and executive decisions to spend limited resources to create new legislative positions without expanding the number of judges, which contributed to a case backlog in the courts and prevented access to justice. The executive, especially security agencies, did not always respect court orders. UPF officers in April defied court orders for the immediate release of Zaake to seek medical attention and kept him in detention an extra day (see section 1.a.).

The president appoints Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeal and High Court judges, and members of the Judicial Service Commission (which makes recommendations on appointments to the judiciary) with the approval of parliament.

Due to vacancies on the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, and the lower courts, the judiciary did not deliver justice in a timely manner. At times the lack of judicial quorum precluded cases from proceeding.

Judicial corruption was a problem, and local media reported numerous cases where judicial officers in lower courts solicited and accepted bribes from the parties involved. In January outgoing Chief Justice Bart Katureebe announced the judiciary would subject seven judicial staff to disciplinary hearings after receiving credible allegations of corruption against them. The judiciary had not released its findings by year’s end.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Authorities detained numerous opposition politicians and activists on politically motivated grounds. Authorities released many without charge but charged others with crimes including treason, annoying the president, cyberharassment, inciting violence, holding illegal meetings, and abuse of office. No reliable statistics on the total number of political detainees or prisoners were available.

On December 22, plainclothes UPF officers arrested and detained human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo and four other lawyers while they were dining in a restaurant. The state released the other lawyers without charges but accused Opiyo of money laundering. The first court he appeared in denied him bail, citing jurisdiction issues. On December 30, Opiyo was released on bail, and his trial continued at year’s end.

On November 18, UPF officers arrested and detained presidential candidate Kyagulanyi in Luuka District as he attempted to address a campaign rally, accusing him of defying COVID-19 restrictions. Police detained Kyagulanyi at Nalufenya police station in Jinja and held him until November 20, when the Iganga chief magistrate’s court granted him bail upon his arraignment. Kyagulanyi said that UPF officers detained him alongside 19 other male suspects in the same cell with three women. Kyagulanyi’s arrest sparked widespread protests during which, according to local media, security forces attacked journalists, killed at least 54 unarmed persons and left hundreds injured. Local media showed images and footage of UPDF, military police, and UPF officers, as well as plainclothes individuals shooting with assault rifles at unarmed persons on the roadside, in office buildings, and in food markets. Several recordings of amateur cellphone footage showed military police officers shooting at unarmed individuals who were recording the security forces’ actions. Officials at Mulago hospital told local media on November 20 that most of those killed died of gunshot wounds, while others died of asphyxiation caused by tear gas. On November 20, Minister for Security Elly Tumwine told local media that the killings were justified because “the police [have] a right to shoot you and kill you if you reach a certain level of violence.” Kyagulanyi’s trial continued at year’s end.

On March 12, UPF and CMI officers surrounded the home of former minister for security, retired soldier, and presidential hopeful Henry Tumukunde in Kololo, Kampala, and told him he was under arrest for making treasonous statements. On March 3, Tumukunde had written to the Electoral Commission expressing his intention to consult the electorate regarding supporting him for a presidential election bid. Then on March 5, he appeared on a television program and said he welcomed Rwanda to support political change in Uganda. Local media and human rights activists reported that the UPF and CMI also arrested at least 13 Tumukunde associates, including his two sons and a cousin, and later charged them with obstruction of justice. The UPF detained Tumukunde at the Criminal Investigations Directorate in Kibuli and later at the Special Investigations Unit in Kireka. The UPF detained his associates and sons at Jinja Road Police Station but released the sons on March 14. On March 18, the UPF arraigned Tumukunde in court and formally charged him with treason and unlawful possession of firearms. On March 23, Tumukunde applied for bail and while initially denied, on May 11, the court granted him bail. At year’s end hearings for Tumukunde’s treason trial had not begun.

On February 20, an appellate court overturned a 2019 cyberharassment conviction against dissident Stella Nyanzi on grounds that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and that it had not carried out a fair hearing.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Police did not always obtain search warrants to enter private homes and offices. In August 2019 media reported the government hired Huawei technicians to hack into Kyagulanyi’s private WhatsApp communications to gather political intelligence against him. The Ugandan and Chinese governments both denied spying on Kyagulanyi. The UPF, however, noted in an August 2019 statement that Huawei had supplied it with closed-circuit television cameras with facial recognition technology, which it installed across the country. According to media reports, the government used Huawei surveillance technology to monitor the whereabouts of Kyagulanyi and other political opponents.

Human rights activists said that government agencies broke into activists’ homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization and arbitrarily sought to access activists’ private communication. On September 9, human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo reported unidentified individuals broke into his private apartment and stole his communication equipment, including his computers and cell phones. Opiyo reported on September 11 that he digitally tracked his missing phones to the CMI headquarters in Mbuya. The law authorizes government security agencies to tap private conversations to combat terrorism-related offenses. The government invoked the law to monitor telephone and internet communications.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government used the Public Order Management Act (POMA) to limit the right to assemble and to disrupt opposition and civil society-led public meetings and rallies until March 26 when the Constitutional Court nullified sections of the law, which had granted the UPF vague powers to block gatherings. The law had placed a significant bureaucratic burden on those wishing to organize or host gatherings and afforded the UPF wide discretion to prevent an event. While the law only required individuals to “notify” police of their intention to hold a public meeting, it also gave police the power to block meetings they deemed “unsuitable.” Typically, the UPF simply failed to respond to “notifications” from opposition groups, thereby creating a legal justification for disrupting almost any gathering.

On numerous occasions between January and March, the UPF blocked presidential hopeful Kyagulanyi from holding consultative meetings with his supporters in preparation for his presidential bid. On January 6, the UPF fired tear gas and bullets to disperse one of Kyagulanyi’s consultative meetings, arguing that Kyagulanyi had not fulfilled POMA requirements, which call for holding the event in an enclosed space, providing ambulances for emergency evacuation, providing firefighting trucks, and providing toilets. After the POMA nullification, the UPF used COVID-19 restrictions to block and disperse political opposition gatherings and rallies. On March 18, the president banned political and cultural gatherings as part of the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On March 24, the government published the Public Health (Control of COVID-19) Rules that made it an offense to “hold public meetings, including political rallies, conferences, and cultural related meetings,” punishable by two months’ imprisonment. Opposition politicians, however, reported the UPF blocked opposition politicians from holding meetings but allowed ruling party politicians to hold rallies and processions. On July 10 and July 16, the UPF arrested FDC MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, accusing him of violating COVID-19 restrictions when he organized a meeting of party members. The UPF fired teargas and bullets to disperse the meetings. The UPF released Ssemujju Nganda without charge. In contrast, ruling party politicians such as State Minister for Investment Evelyn Anite, Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ephraim Kamuntu, and Minister for Health Jane Ruth Aceng held large campaign rallies and processions without interruption from security forces. On August 29, however, the UPF arrested ruling party MP Sam Bitangaro for holding a rally in violation of COVID-19 rules. He was released that day without formal charges.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The law also allows authorities to carry out elections for the lowest-level local government officials by having voters line up behind their preferred candidate or the candidate’s representative, portrait, or symbol. Serious irregularities marred the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections and several special parliament elections that followed.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held its fifth presidential and legislative elections since President Museveni came to power in 1986. The Electoral Commission (EC) announced the president was re-elected with 61 percent of the vote, and FDC candidate Kizza Besigye finished second with 36 percent. The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party captured approximately 70 percent of the seats in the 431-member unicameral parliament. Domestic and international election observers stated the elections fell short of international standards for credible democratic elections. The Commonwealth Observer Mission’s report noted flawed processes, and the EU’s report noted an atmosphere of intimidation and police use of excessive force against opposition supporters, media workers, and the public. Domestic and international election observers noted biased media coverage and the EC’s lack of transparency and independence. Media reported voter bribery, multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, and the alteration of precinct and district results. Due to election disputes stemming from the elections, in 2016 the Supreme Court recommended changes to electoral laws to increase fairness, including campaign finance reform and equal access for all candidates to state-owned media. The government had not yet enacted laws to comply with these recommendations.

During the year the EC held several local elections, which local media reported featured incidents of intimidation by security forces and irregularities such as voters in opposition strongholds complaining their names were missing on the voter register. Political parties also held party primaries in preparation for the 2021 general election. On September 4, the ruling NRM party held its primaries, in which party members alleged widespread voter intimidation, bribery, harassment, and killings of rival supporters. On September 4-5, local media broadcast images of party members receiving 5,000 Ugandan shillings ($1.35) each before lining up to vote. On September 5, amateur cellphone video footage emerged on social media showing State Minister for Labor Mwesigwa Rukutana in a scuffle with a rival’s supporters, before drawing a rifle from one of his bodyguards and aiming it at his rival’s vehicle. Local media reported that Rukutana fired the gun at the vehicle, injuring an occupant and damaging the car. On September 6, the UPF arrested Rukutana with his three bodyguards for inciting violence, attempted murder, and malicious damage to property. His trial continued at year’s end.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition leaders and intimidated and beat their supporters (see sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.d.). On October 14, UPF and UPDF officers raided the NUP secretariat in Kamwokya and confiscated documents, property, and party insignia while accusing the NUP of being in possession of military uniforms (see section 2.a.). NUP officials reported UPF and UPDF personnel stole 25 million Ugandan shillings ($6,800) from the party’s offices that the party had earmarked to pay nomination fees for its electoral candidates, and confiscated signatures backing Kyagulanyi’s nomination to contest for the presidency. The UPF used COVID-19 restrictions to disperse opposition meetings and rallies but allowed similar meetings by the ruling party to proceed unhindered (see section 2.b.). The law prohibits candidates from holding official campaign events more than four months prior to an election, although the ruling NRM party operated without restriction, regularly holding rallies and conducting political activities. In December 2019 the EC announced it had closed its update of the voter register in preparation for the 2021 election, effectively blocking more than one million citizens who would have turned 18 years old–the required minimum age to vote–by February 2021 from participating in the electoral process. Local civil society organizations criticized the action and stated the EC closed the voter register early to lock out potential Kyagulanyi supporters. The UPF used COVID-19 restrictions regularly to block opposition politicians from appearing on radio and television talk shows (see section 2.a.). Opposition politicians also accused the ruling party of gerrymandering when the parliament approved 46 new legislative districts.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women comprised 35 percent of the members of parliament and occupied 34 percent of ministerial positions. Cultural factors, high costs, and sexual harassment, however, limited women’s ability to run for political office. Female activists reported the official fees required to secure a nomination to run for elected office were prohibitively high and prevented most women from running for election. Gender rights activists reported violence from the security agencies discouraged women from participating in electoral activities. Gender rights activists also reported an affirmative action policy, which reserved a legislative position for women in each district, instead discouraged women from running against men in the other positions not reserved for women. Election observers reported that holding party primaries and some local government elections by having voters line up behind their selected candidate effectively disenfranchised women, because they could be discouraged from participating in a process that could bring them into conflict with their domestic partners if they voted for the opposing candidate.

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