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Uganda’s Religious Leaders Condemn “brutal arrest of political candidates”

Religious leaders in Uganda have expressed concerns about the latest violent activities in the country, condemning the arrest of two presidential candidates.

In their collective statement issued Thursday, November 19, members of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) call on the security agencies “to uphold the Ugandan Constitution.”

“We are deeply concerned about the violent events that occurred in our country yesterday where the whole world witnessed brutal arrests of political candidates; Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi and Hon. Amuriat Oboi,” IRCU members say.

The religious leaders who include a representative of the Catholic Bishops “call for the immediate release of all people who were arrested yesterday. In the event that they committed crimes, they should be presented to the courts of law as the law stipulates.”

On Wednesday, November 18, Ugandan police arrested the National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu popularly known as Bobi Wine in Luuka District, Eastern Uganda, as he campaigned for the January 14 presidential election.

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Patrick Oboi Amuriat who is the presidential candidate for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Party was also arrested in Gulu, Northern Uganda. 

News of the politicians’ arrest was met with protests in different parts of the country including the capital, Kampala, where supporters of Bobi Wine who chanted his name blocked roads and burned tyres.

The police engaged the demonstrators in running battles, the November 19 violence that led to the death of 16, Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman, Patrick Onyango, told the Associated Press, adding that 65 people were injured.

In their collective statement, the members of IRCU who include Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala Archdiocese say that the “police were in breach of the COVID-19 Standard of Operating Procedures (SOPs) and of Article 21(3) that stipulates that the police shall be patriotic, professional, disciplined, competent and productive.” 

“The army has breached Article 209 (of the Ugandan Constitution) that states that the army will cooperate with civilian authority in emergency situations and in cases of natural disasters like COVID-19,” the religious leaders add. 

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They “urge all men and women in uniform to uphold the Ugandan Constitution and all relevant laws and ought to treat all citizens of Uganda fairly and equally irrespective of their political affiliation.”

They also call on members of the security forces in Uganda to “adhere to the human rights principles enshrined in the national objectives and practices.” 

The members of IRCU also note “with concern increasing cases of violence across the country that threaten to undermine the integrity and fairness of our elections” and cite cases where political candidates are being blocked from accessing campaign venues, media houses among others.” 

They call on the electoral commission to “take charge of the electoral process including the security arrangements of all political candidates and ensure an enabling environment.”

In August, the religious leaders expressed their concerns about unequal access to the media and police brutality as the country prepares for the January 2021 polls. 

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“We are witnessing lack of equal access to the media and the police discriminately dispersing crowds and political contenders. There is a lack of consistency and clarity by the Electoral Commission on elections,” IRCU said in their August 13 statement.

They called on politicians and the leadership of the country’s Electoral Commission to engage in dialogue on how to run political campaigns.