The Ugandan Police on Thursday arrested several leading members of the one of the main opposition parties in the repressive country – the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) – on charges of inciting public disturbance.
According to reports by local media, former FDC presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, the disputed Lord Mayor of Kampla Erias Lukwago, as well as Lubago North Member of Parliament Moses Kasibante and Mukono Municipality Member of Parliament Betty Namboose Bakireke, have been taken into custody after escaping an attempt to cordon them in their homes.
The officials are reported to have been scheduled to hold a meeting in the offices of another opposition party – the Justice Forum (FEEMA) – in Mengo, Kampala, to discuss the fate of Lord Mayor Lukwago.
The Mayor of Kampala Erias Lukwago was voted out of office late last year by councillors of the Kampala City Council Authority after a tribunal report accused him of incompetence and abuse of office.
Although the Mayor’s dismissal was revoked by the High Court shortly afterwards, the councillors continue to call for him to be ousted.
Ibin Ssenkunbi, spokesman for the Kampala police force, explained that the arrests were made after investigations revealed the opposition was planning to organise widespread violent protests.
“[They had planned on] inciting violence in different corners of the city to try and engage police on different fronts. But we intercepted that information and we were on high alert,” he said.
According to Mr. Ssenkunbi, “Depending on the investigations the arrested [leaders] are likely to be taken to court on Friday and those who would not be liable for charges would be released.”
Uganda has a notorious record of stifling the activities of groups opposed to the ruling leadership.
Several critics have noted that the enactment of the Public Order Management Act last year gives legal permission to the government’s brute repression of public opposition gatherings.
Dr. Kizza Beigye, who ran against the incumbent President Yoweri Musuveni in 2001, 2006 and 2011, recently revealed that civil disobedience may be the only way to topple the current dictatorial regime.
In an interview with the Observer, Dr. Besigye noted that “Struggles may not end as quickly as people would want them to. What must be kept in mind is that as long as the unjust regime is in power, people will continue to suffer; in fact if they don’t struggle, they may become permanent slaves. Whether it takes time, we have no choice but to struggle to reclaim our country.”
Dr. Besigye has revealed that he will no longer run for president, his party has consiquently set the process of electing another candidate in motion.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ssenkunbi has defended the contentious arrests, which are reported to have been effected based on the advice of the Attorney General.
“We are defending the rights of the majority because you can’t say Dr. Besigye is enjoying his rights to the detriment to the hundreds of thousands of people who actually use Kampala roads and have businesses in Kampala,” he said.
Police sources say during opposition protests the streets of Kampala are virtually shut down, impeding the movement of Ugandans who are not be allied with the protests.
According to the Old Kampala division police commander Joram Mwesige, the scheduled gathering would have been illegal since Mr. Lukwago has been ousted from office and therefore has no right to publicly discuss issues relating to the Mayor’s office.
Several leading members of the FDC and JEEMA say despite a prolonged attempt to secure the release of the arrested politicians, security officers have denied their requests.
Members of the FDC have publicly condemned the arrests, which they say reveals that the ruling party is using state institutions to meet partisan political ends.
As a result of this dispute, at least one unidentified man is reported to have sustained a leg injury as security forces attempted to take FDC officials into custody.
Sometime prior to his arrest, the disputed Mayor of Kampala denied accusations that the meeting scheduled for JEEMA offices is aimed at fometing unrest.
“[It] is a frivolous accusation always leveled against us by the police to curtail our rights [and] our civil liberties,” he explains.
Photo by Ismael Kezaala: The Mayor of Kampala being taken into custody in 2011.