BY SOLOMON LUBAMBULA
Although President Museveni assented to the Public Order Management Bill last month making it illegal to hold public meetings without police permission according to the new law, activists say the struggle for their freedom of assemble continues.
By the nature of operations of the Civil Society Organizations that always interacting with the Public, a host of civil society organizations under their umbrella organizations the Development Network for Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA) have decided to petition the Constitutional Court challenging the Public Order Management Act 2013(POMA).
The civil society Organizations under DENIVA that convened for their annual general meeting, discussed the effects of the law on their activities and came up with a number of resolutions.
The DENIVA Executive Director Justus Rugambwa the new law comes with a lot of uncertainty regarding the civil society work. Giving the example of the annual general meeting that attracted over 700 organisations Rugambwa said that as organized they were not sure if the gathering was lawful since they had not written to the police as recommended in the law.
The law requires organizers of public meetings to write to the Police 48 hours before holding the event.
“we should have filled a form, waited for 48 hours notice by the police and got permission from own of the premises and watched out what we are saying, so these community based organizations are now asking, with all the work they do in monitoring social service delivery in groups, must they fill the form, must they inform the police since they talk about public projects, policies and programs”-Rugambwa
The Uganda Law Society Secretary General Nicholas Opiyo who is drafting the constitutional court petition on behalf of DENIVA, explains that the Law has four contentious issues that must be challenged.
He says holding organizers liable for the criminal acts of the participants of the meeting is unfair and irregular because because practically organizers may not have control over all parties involved.
“the law makes organizers of demonstrations criminally liberal for actions of third parties in our view that offends the principle of individual criminal liability, nobody should be held liable for actions of the third parties.”
Quoting section 6 of the Act that requires anybody who is aggrieved by a decision of a police officer to stop a demonstration must run to court, Opiyo argues that the police cannot constitute themselves into a jury and judge of their own case.
Despite the fact that the police should go to court and seek a court order to stop a demonstration, now law tasks the organizers of demonstrations to go to court to justify their own demonstration. Council Opiyo says this is a reversal in the principle for presumption of innocence and fair hearing.
Opiyo further justifies the petition saying that the state must be able to allow everybody to exercise their freedom simultaneously but peacefully instead of allowing one group a right over others.
The Public Order Management Act was passed by parliament on August 5th 2013 before President Yoweri Museveni assented to it on October 10.
The law is aimed at regulating the conduct of public assemblies and empowers the police to allow or disallow any gathering of more than three people meeting to discuss political issues. Government says the law is meant to curb lawlessness and encourage discipline among political leaders who use public assemblies to incite violence.
The Act provides for the regulation of public meetings, specifies the duties and responsibilities of the police, organizers and participants of such gatherings. It also prescribes measures for safeguarding public order without compromising the principles of democracy, freedom of association and freedom of speech.
The Public Order Management Act was passed by parliament on August 5th 2013 amid strong opposition from political, diplomatic, religious circles and civil society circles. Disregarding the public outcry over the bill, President Yoweri Museveni assented to it on October 10.
The law is aimed at regulating the conduct of public assemblies, by giving powers to the police to allow or disallow any public meetings discussing political issues.
Butambala MP Muwanga Kivumbi who has been at the forefront of fighting this law said the new law goes beyond infringing on the people’s rights enshrined in the constitution but also violate Article 92 which prohibits parliament from enacting laws to overturn the ruling of courts.
Muwanga based this argument on the fact that after his constitutional court petition in 2008, challenging section 32 of the Police Act that was giving powers to the Inspector General of Police to prohibit a public meeting, Court ruled that this was a limitation on the rights to freedoms of assembly and association.
In a rare move Muwanga honestly said, all Ugandans ought to appreciate the achievements by the President Museveni’s regime, consolidate and build on them. The opposition and critical lawmaker said it is not worth even for President Museveni or any other to bring laws like this one that may degenerate the country into a situation that may undermine the National achievements registered over the years.
Muwanga said it is no incumbent upon all patriotic Ugandans to oppose and defy the POMA as the constitution which is the supreme law requires them to do.