Ugandan human rights lawyer Kiiza says presidential election is invalid

Dennis Kabatto: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 January 2021:

Eron Kiiza, Ugandan human rights attorney and lead counsel of Uganda’s media association, has referred to recent presidential election which took place on Thursday, January 14, 2021 as invalid.

He made this statement last Wednesday from his home in Kampala, during a phone interview for Afrobeatradio show, which airs over Pacifica Network Station, WBAI 99.5 FM in New York, www.wbai.org

Attorney Kiiza joins a growing number of election observers, including top United States diplomat to Africa, Tibor Nagy who described Uganda’s 2021 electoral process as “fundamentally flawed.” (Photo: Eron Kiiza). 

The United States State Department also in a statement describes the election as “marred by the harassment of opposition leaders, supporters, suppression of the media and civil society activities, nationwide internet shutdown and the house arrest of National Unity Party opposition leader Bobi Wine as unlawful actions and a worrying trend.”

Speaking to the press in Kampala on Friday January 15, 2021, Bobi Wine called on Uganda’s development partners and the international community to reject the results of the presidential election, claiming fraud and widespread irregularities impeding the people of Uganda’s voting rights. Bobi Wine said he will contest the election result.

Citing limited and restricted election observation by the electoral commission during the radio interview, Attorney Kiiza said about 28 civil society observers were arrested and detained, accredited observers including most of the United States embassy observer mission team’s accreditation requests were denied; and worse yet, the arbitrary and capricious detention and killing of supporters.

This is an excerpt of the interview with Attorney Kiiza:

Talk about the validity of the elections. In terms of irregularities would you and your colleagues at the Ugandan Bar Association say that the presidential election was specifically invalid?

The Presidential election is not valid because it was neither free nor fair. It was adulterated by militarism, violence, uneven handedness, biased regulation, internet and social media blackout, harassment of journalists and opposition candidates, political persecution, torture and humiliation of contenders, denial of consultation opportunities, and infringement of a plethora of candidates’ civil liberties.

An observer of elections would be forgiven for mistaking them for a war, given the show and application of military might against the opposition and population that was typified by extrajudicial killings of more than 50 people between 18-20th November 2020, following protests against the arrest and detention of Robert Kyagulanyi – aka Bobi Wine, while he campaigned at Luuka Trading Center in Jinja District, in the Eastern area of Uganda. (Photo below: Bobi Wine campaigns in for Uganda’s presidential election).

The observation of the elections was very limited with the Electoral Commission denying accreditation to most of the credible observers, including foreign observers. Some 28 civil society members who were observing the elections, got arrested and detained on election day and only got freedom after the official declaration of the disputed elections.

Leading opposition National Unity Party (NUP) presidential candidate Bobi Wine, has said that he will contest the election. Do you honestly think he and the NUP have a chance of over-turning the election result?

Every time an election petition is presented before Uganda’s Supreme Court, the court is afforded a unique opportunity to seize a historic moment and exercise a constitutional obligation to secure the sanctity of the Constitution and inject sanity in the conduct and governance of the elections. The only elections envisioned by our Constitution, the supreme law, is a free and fair election.

That is a clear benchmark. In the past, the Supreme Court has shied away from affirming the said constitutional standard, and tolerated fraudulent and massively rigged elections on the pretext that the rigging and irregularities had no substantial impact on the outcome of the election. That is a low standard.

This fresh opportunity for the Supreme Court is on the backdrop of two African Supreme Courts in Kenya and Malawi annulling fraudulent and irregular Presidential elections.

The petition is also a good opportunity to immortalize the electoral dirt and document the roles of the various players in sabotaging the peoples’ will for posterity. It is an incredible official record of this important part of our electoral and governance history.

What about election irregularities and human rights violations, including the illegality of limitations on public gathering or right to assembly. Did you and your colleagues at the Ugandan Bar Association observe any violations?

The violations were many. Freedoms of assembly, movement and association were mostly denied the journalists covering the opposition candidates. The candidates, the media, the population were tortured, illegally detained, politically persecuted and killed. (Photo below: Ugandan being beaten and arrested).

Candidates were blocked from accessing media houses, internet and social media were shut down, and coverage of electoral activities were ringfenced to so called accredited journalists.

Massive arrests of opposition campaign agents and the criminalization of their electoral participation, including persecution in military courts, were some of the human rights violations. Life, liberty, dignity and equality were among the most violated during the elections.

Does the Uganda Bar Association plan to contest the election or plan to bring a lawsuit against the validity of the election?

Not necessarily. The primary responsibility for challenging the electoral irregularities falls on the candidates. Uganda Law Society intends to hold some specific violators to account through criminal and civil proceedings.

Two High Court Justices, Judge Esther Nambe and Judge Musa Sskaana refused to hear Bobi Wine’s case of infringement on him and his supporter’s rights to personal liberty and freedom to assemble. Is there any precedent for this type of case? And are you familiar with Mr. Wine’s claims?

It is habeas corpus application. It seeks to have court order for the production of Bobi before court or his unconditional release. Habeas corpus applications are instruments of liberty and judicial mechanisms for checking illegal detentions. They are numerously used here because illegal detention is pervasive. (Photo below: Uganda’s opposition party leader being arrested).

Bobi Wine has been under illegal house arrest since Thursday, January 14th. on March 26 last year, Uganda Constitutional Court nullified parts of Uganda’s public order law, which gave police excessive powers to prohibit public gatherings and protests and declaration of Section 8 of Uganda’s Public Order Management Act 2013 illegal and unconstitutional. How will that declaration impact Bobi Wine’s case?

The arrest is illegal. That particular case is not particularly relevant to the present illegal detention which has nothing to do with public order management.

Relating to the internet shut-down before elections. 6th term President Museveni’s Senior Press Secretary and spokesman Don Wanyama told reporters that the switch-off was for the good of the opposition as well as for the ruling party, adding that it was also to thwart off people who wanted to spread hatred and violence. What is your reaction to that statement?

The internet shut down is a blanket infringement of expression, media and other freedoms. It is was a politically motivated move that was costly for business and robbed Ugandans an opportunity to observe the elections in real time. Wanyama is being dishonest as usual. He is a mouthpiece of a military dictator charged with apologizing for dictatorship.

1 Comment

  1. In 2010 and on a visit to Kenya then vice president Joe Biden said “I hope what I am saying does not come across as lecturing” and he went “I am not, but too many of your resources have been lost to corruption and not a single high-ranking official has been held accountable for these crimes”. Whilst in office Trump never visited black Africa. Just as well. So I wonder whether the state department released this statement under former president Trumps administration, or on the orders of the new Biden administration. The US state department released a statement condemning the recently concluded presidential elections between Yoweri Museveni, and the opposition leader musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, stage name Bobi Wine.

    With Trump in the White House, and on his way out, Museveni calculated the date well to hold the presidential elections, with the full knowledge, there will be little pressure from his pay masters in Washington to force him to conduct free and fair elections. If anything Trump’s behaviour is challenging his own defeat only emboldened dictators like Museveni to hold on to power. Museveni appears rattled by the popularity of Bobi Wine. The vast majority of Ugandans are under thirty five years old, and don’t know any other leader. That is why the young were rooting for change. Trump’s actions shattered youths’s hope in Uganda just like he shattered the dreams of people trying to promote democracy, the rule of law and free press in their countries. Museveni and any other would-be African strongman, watch out there is a new occupant in the White House. Because Biden has tested the bitterness of the occupant trying to stop the opposition from taking power in a Free and fair elections. So he might not be friendly to dictators.

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