Activists decry harassment of rights defenders

Human rights defenders operating in Uganda have asked government to stop harassing them for doing their work.

Through their umbrella body, National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda (NCHRD-U), the eleven organizations note that they have used a variety of legitimate methods to draw attention to human rights violations and to seek accountability, urging government to guarantee their freedoms.

The organizations include; Advocate Sans Frontiers, Chapter Four Uganda, Defenders Protection Initiative, Defend Defenders, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Human Rights Network Uganda, Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda, Human Rights Centre Uganda, Uganda Law Society and Unwanted Witness Uganda.

“We underscore the universality of human rights, including the right to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we call upon the State to protect human rights defenders working on human rights issues in Uganda,” reads in part, a joint statement issued on Wednesday.

The statement issued by NCHRD-U comes at the backdrop of academic Dr. Stella Nyanzi’s arrest and prosecution over her Facebook postings about President Museveni and the First Lady and education minister Janet.

Prof.Stella Nyanzi

Dr. Nyanzi, a social researcher at Makerere University has in the past few months criticized President Museveni for backtracking on his campaign promise to provide sanitary towels to need girls across the country as a way of keeping them in school.

Ms Museveni had made an announcement citing lack of funds for the towels that set off a Facebook backlash from Dr. Nyanzi through her writings where she accuses the first family of being inconsiderate to the needs of poor Ugandans.

Dr Nyanzi, was arrested on March 14 and arraigned in court on charges of cyber harassment and offensive communication under the Computer Misuse Act2 to which she pleaded not guilty.

In a related incident, Ms Gertrude Uwitware, a reporter at NTV Uganda was on March 15 kidnapped by unknown people after she published an article on her blog in support of Dr Nyanzi’s Facebook critical postings.

According to police, Uwitware’s kidnappers blindfolded her while issuing her with threats as they drove her around Kampala before finally dumping her in one of the suburbs in the midnight.

“We express deep concern towards the rising critical cases of violations of fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression as enshrined under Article 29 of the 1995 Ugandan Constitution and various ratified international legal instruments,” the joint statement by the organisations reads further.