Uganda is a constitutional republic led since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. In 2016 voters re-elected Museveni to a fifth five-year term and returned an NRM majority to the unicameral parliament. Allegations of disenfranchisement and voter intimidation, harassment of the opposition, closure of social media websites, and lack of transparency and independence in the Electoral Commission (EC), marred the elections that also fell short of international standards. The periods before, during, and after the elections were marked by a closing of political space, intimidation of journalists, and widespread use of torture by the security agencies.
The national police maintain internal security. While the army is responsible for external security, the president detailed army officials to leadership roles within the police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture; and arbitrary detention by government agencies. The government was also responsible for harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; detainment of political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; lack of independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; significant acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons (LGBTI); and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity was a problem.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.
Freedom of Expression: The government restricted citizens’ ability to criticize its actions. It also restricted some political symbols, musical lyrics, and theatrical performances.
On September 18, the government published guidelines that banned the public from wearing red berets, saying that the berets would henceforth be considered a military uniform and therefore the exclusive property of the state. Red berets had been the symbol worn by supporters of Kyagulanyi’s People Power movement. On October 1, Kyagulanyi reported that the UPF and UPDF had started arresting People Power supporters whom they found wearing the red berets. The UPF on numerous occasions also confiscated People Power movement insignia, especially red berets and T-shirts with pro-Kyagulanyi messages. On August 13, the UPF raided the Democratic Party’s (DP) offices, arrested four supporters, and confiscated 300 T-shirts with pro-Kyagulanyi messages commemorating the one-year anniversary of Kyagulanyi’s arrest and torture. The UPF said the T-shirts bore messages inciting violence. The UPF released the four DP supporters later that day and said it only called them in for interrogation.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The country had an active media environment with numerous privately owned newspapers and television and radio stations. These media outlets regularly covered stories and often provided commentary critical of the government and officials. The UPF’s Media and Political Crimes Unit, however, closely monitored all radio, television, and print media, and security forces subjected numerous journalists to harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Government officials and ruling party members owned many of the private rural radio stations and imposed reporting restrictions. Media practitioners said government and security agents occasionally called editors and instructed them not to publish stories that negatively portrayed the government. On April 30, the communications regulator Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) wrote to broadcast houses ordering the suspension of 39 journalists holding producer and editing positions for violating minimum broadcast standards when they aired live images of a Kyagulanyi procession through Kampala on April 29. The UCC also ordered the media houses to submit all footage aired that day for investigation. On May 8, the Uganda Journalists Association and two private attorneys filed an application in court to block the UCC action, which a court granted May 23, indicating that the UCC had overstepped its mandate.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces subjected journalists and media houses to violence, harassment, and intimidation. On February 7, the UPF arrested five local and international journalists who were working undercover to report on the theft of drugs in public hospitals. The UPF stated that it arrested the five on charges of “illegal possession of classified drugs.” On February 8, the UPF released the journalists on police bond but said investigations into the case continued. Civil society contacts also reported that in October the president expelled a journalist from a press conference after the reporter asked a question about the country’s fiscal debt.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to its guidelines, and directly and indirectly censored the media, including by controlling licensing and advertising, instructing editors to suspend critical journalists, arresting and beating journalists, and disrupting and ransacking photojournalistic exhibitions. The media, under government pressure, practiced self-censorship. On July 24, NBS TV aired live footage as Kyagulanyi launched his presidential bid in his home but edited out parts of his speech that were critical of the regime and of the president. In early August the UCC announced that it required online publishers, bloggers, and influencers to register with them for a $20 annual license. The UPF on several occasions switched off and broke into FM radio station studios that hosted opposition politician Kizza Besigye for talk shows. On April 18, the UPF switched off the Mubende FM radio transmission, and then forced its way into the studios where Besigye was attending a talk show and arrested him.
Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials. On June 14, local media reported that on June 12 the authorities arrested journalist Pidson Kareire for offensive communication and criminal libel in relation to stories he published about labor recruitment companies with ties to the president’s family.
National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies. Security agencies arrested numerous dissidents on charges of incitement of violence. UPF and UPDF officials on June 15 arrested events manager and Kyagulanyi supporter Andrew Mukasa as he held a press conference to announce a marathon in Kyagulanyi’s honor, on charges of inciting violence and disturbing the president’s peace. The UPF arraigned him in court on June 19 and released him on bail July 11. The case continued at year’s end.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
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 since.