In a recent blog post, international lawyer Simon Wolfe reflects on the last several months of the Ugandan government’s increasingly repressive response to the growing popularity of “People Power”.
In the past year, the music has died on the streets of Arua, in the courtrooms of Gulu and in the music venues of Kampala. President Museveni of Uganda and his crew of thugs have finally been exposed for the abuse and torture they’ve levelled against those lawfully and peacefully criticising the government. Most prominently, Mr. Museveni has banned several concerts of one of his most popular critics, Bobi Wine, the successful musical artist turned member of parliament. Mr. Museveni mobilised security forces to ban entrance to the planned music venues, and ordered the use of violence on peaceful protestors and supporters of Mr. Wine.
Due to the public outrage at this capricious and extrajudicial trampling on Bobi’s fair right to freedom of expression, Museveni is now considering passing a law which would require any musical artist to seek permission of the government for the release of a record, or to host a performance. Such a law would have a tremendous chilling effect on freedom of expression. This, of course, followed the arrest, imprisonment and torture of Mr. Wine in what has now become a series of acts designed to intimidate and suppress an opponent who is deeply popular with a new generation of Ugandans.
Freedom of expression and of the media is guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. At a national level in Uganda, the Press and Journalist Act of 1995 ensures the freedom of the press. Further, Article 29 of the Ugandan Constitution provides that “every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media”.
Despite this, Mr. Museveni has prepared and intends to pass new draft regulations under the Stage Plays & Public Entertainments Act, Cap 49. These regulations are expected to be passed in March of this year. The new regulations include a requirement for artists to submit their products — such as song lyrics or film scripts — to authorities for a vetting process. In addition, artists will be required to register and obtain a licence, which the authorities can revoke for failure to comply with the new regulations, thereby increasing the restriction on the free speech of artists.