SEPTEMBER 23, 2010: More Protests Against New Law On Public Gatherings

More Protests Against New Law On Public Gatherings

SOURCE: The Monitor

By Sheila Naturinda, Richard Wanambwa and Mercy Nalugo

Opposition parties yesterday said they are preparing a formal protest to the government over the proposed Public Order Management Bill 2009 before it is tabled in Parliament.

Speaking in his capacity as flag bearer for the four-party Inter- Party Cooperation, Dr Kizza Besigye told Daily Monitor that this protest will highlight the potential of the Bill to instigate "instability and cause confusion."

"We have parties which have individually responded but we shall give an official response as IPC soon," Dr Besigye said. The draft Bill seeks to regulate public assemblies and give sweeping powers to the police boss which critics -- including international media rights activists - suspect could facilitate an unfair election next year.

UPC warns

Earlier, the Uganda Peoples Congress revealed during a morning press conference that they will be asking their MPs to raise the matter in Parliament as a first step, while leaving the option of going to court open.

Party secretary general Joseph Bbosa told journalists that the government has to strike a balance between national security concerns and the people's freedoms as stipulated in the Constitution.

"We are saying this Bill is too obstructive and this is too far," he said, observing that terrorists can attack whenever they choose without necessarily waiting for people to assemble in one place.

Civil society and human rights defenders also see in this Bill an attempt to reverse a 2008 Constitutional Court ruling which repealed sections of the Police Act that granted the police powers to prohibit public assemblies and processions.

Yesterday, a visiting mission of international media rights defenders also warned that the Bill threatens civil liberties. The international joint mission on freedom of expression officials led by Freedom House, a US-based media watchdog, said the Bill's timing is suspicious and urged government to drop it in public interest.

The media activists were speaking after they met Speaker of Parliament, Mr Edward Ssekandi.

The Africa Programme Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Mr Tom Rhodes, said "... the Bill appears to be a measure to control political activism and freedom of speech and the way it was introduced is suspicious since the country is headed for the 2011 elections."

Other members of the delegation noted that while government is within its rights to originate laws for the proper governance of the country, this must be done within acceptable limits.

In their meeting with the Speaker, the delegation also raised concerns about the constitutionality of the proposed Press and Journalists (Amendment) Bill 2010, currently before Cabinet.

Mr Ssekandi told his guests that Parliament cannot pass a law that is unconstitutional.

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