The powers given to the Inspector General of Police under the new law restricting public gatherings and demonstrations are unjustified in a free and democratic society, a Court of Appeal judge has said.
Justice Remmy Kasule said democratic societies tolerate some ‘annoyance’ or ‘disorder’ and such limitations on public gatherings do not portray Uganda as democratic.
“A society, especially a democratic one, should be able to tolerate annoyance or disorder so as to encourage the greatest possible freedom of expression particularly political expression,” Justice Kasule said at a workshop on ‘public interest law in delivering democracy in East Africa’ in Kampala yesterday.
“The right to peaceful protest is not absolute. The police have a wide range of powers to control and restrict actions of protestors. These powers should not be exercised by police in an unaccountable and discriminatory manner,’ he said.
The Public Order Management Act bars individuals from convening for a public gathering without permission of the police.
It also gives police powers to use force to disperse such gatherings. The police have used the law to violently disperse Opposition rallies or public gatherings and meetings deemed to be against the government.
Justice Kasule said: “The powers given to the IGP to prohibit convening of assemblies or processions are unjustified limitations on the enjoyment of fundamental rights.”
Accordingly, he said citizens should be allowed to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms, reasoning that the role of the police is to keep law and order but not to curtail people’s freedoms on mere anticipation of chaos.
Various people have petitioned the Constitutional Court, seeking declarations that the Public Order Management law is inconsistent with the Constitution because it curtails people’s right to assemble or demonstrate in a peaceful manner.
Women rights activist Miria Matembe demanded to know from the judges present why cases filed by political activists who were beaten by police as they travelled around the country campaigning for electoral reforms have not been expeditiously concluded.
She wondered whether the judges are colluding with the government.
key areas of concern in the act
Peaceful assembly. The Act fails to establish a presumption in favour of the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, or the duty on the State to facilitate peaceful assemblies.
Bureaucratic. Establishes a de facto authorisation procedure for peaceful assemblies that is unnecessarily bureaucratic with broad discretion for the State to refuse notifications.
Prohibits. Fails to make provision for the facilitation and protection of simultaneous and counter-demonstrations and prohibits public meetings, except those in Town Halls, between 7pm and 7am.
Undue powers. Allows the Interior Minister broad powers to designate “gazetted” areas where assemblies are absolutely prohibited.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor