Judges of the Constitutional court have warned that the police brutality meted out to members of parliament and the general populace last year can lead to the nullification of the age limit law.
On December 20, 2018 at least 317 MPs - mostly from the ruling party, National Resistance Movement (NRM) passed the Constitution (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2017. The bill among others, lifted the presidential age limits as well as extended the term of office for members of parliament, presidency and local governments by two years.
During cross examination of witnesses including the chief of defence forces Gen David Muhoozi, police director of operations (former Kampala Metropolitan Police commander) Frank Mwesigwa, director of police operations, AIGP Asuman Mugenyi, permanent secretary and secretary to the treasury Keith Muhakanizi, cabinet secretary & head of Public Service, John Mitala the seemingly angry judges expressed concerns about the conduct of security forces in 'policing Ugandans' and the infringement of their political freedoms.
Mugenyi was asked why he ordered police to fire teargas at a consultation rally organised by Leader of Opposition Winnie Kiiza in Kasese.
Justice Alfonse Owiny Dollo said even former Uganda President and dictator Idi Amin loved Ugandans, and that the way police brutalised MPs opposed to age limit amendment, is an unacceptable way of treating leaders. Mugenyi was also asked if the police order that banned consultations on the age limit law was on the orders of speaker Rebecca Kadaga.
"Who told you to rule Ugandans as if they are cows?...Are you aware that this action can lead to the nullification of this law? Your action alone, the action of the police." Justice Kakuru asked.
Mugenyi said it was not his decision to restrict MPs from carrying out consultations. He said he issued a directive to enforce a directive by speaker of parliament advising that MPs should not hold consultations outside their constituents.
Mugenyi said commanders of the joint security operation met on October 16, 2017 and decided that police should restrict MPs from the opposition from holding.
"In the present democratic dispensation under this Constitution here. How can police come up with this kind of communication to a member of parliament, really? Would you be proud of this type of thing." said Justice Owiny Dollo.
Earlier, Gen Muhoozi who appeared confident and astute throughout the cross examination even more than the cross examiners, admitted to a fully packed Constitutional court that it was indeed presidential guards that invaded parliament on September 27, 2017.
Muhoozi said that he passed on orders down the chain of command for the deployment at parliament after he was called by then inspector general of police Gen Kale Kayihura for support to the police at about 1pm.
One of the petitioners' lawyers Ladislaus Kiiza Rwakafuzi put it to Gen Muhoozi that there was already deployment at parliament even before 1pm, the time at which he said Kayihura had called. In defence, Muhoozi said that was because they used troops that are always stationed at parliament.
"Parliament is co-located with the office of the president and we have a permanent presence of the military at parliament. Even the choice to use those people was because of convenience because they were there and the need was urgent according to the request of the IGP." said Muhoozi.
Rwakafuzi asked Muhoozi if he was aware that the military's invasion of parliament on September 27 was actually forcing and intimidating MPs to do what they are constitutionally mandated to do. Muhoozi said the military "were there to restore the integrity of parliament."
When asked if he was aware that some MPs had been tortured or beaten on the day the army invaded parliament, Muhoozi said there was no report that indicated that the forces who supported the police beat up the MPs.
Lawyer Erias Lukwago told Muhoozi that the National Security Act neccesitates that such deployment has to first be discussed in the National Security Council [NSC].
"This was a very urgent matter, we did not have the luxury to go through the NSC to support the police what in their view was an emergency." Muhoozi said. He said as a matter of fact "it isn't at all" a requirement of the law to discuss such deployment in NSC.
Muhoozi said he didn't have to discuss the issue of deployment with the speaker of parliament when it was put to him that she's the head of parliament, where deployment was done.
"The speaker is above me, way above me and is no where in my chain of command of the security force... the sergeant at arms was completely out of the question as far as I'm concerned" he said.
Lukwago asked Muhoozi if indeed before the deployment, the presidential guards were in the president's office. Muhoozi said they were already in the precincts of parliament before the deployment.
With the failure of the cross-examiners to ask the 'right' questions, it was left to the judges to ask the questions. Justice Owiny-Dollo asked why the army deployed yet the MPs posed no such big risk. He also wondered what exactly the army went to do that the police couldn't do. Muhoozi said the deployment was premised on the request of Gen Kayihura, who in his assessment requisitioned for support.
Justice Kenneth Kakuru asked Muhoozi how the military was able to enter the House immediately soon after the speaker had adjourned plenary. Muhoozi said there was anticipation of violence given the events that happened the previous day. He was also put on the spot why the army continues to detain civilians in military facilities.
"Gen Muhoozi, parliament is where the representatives of the people resolve on people's problems and the governance of the country. When the IGP contacted you, did you feel it necessary given the special status of this institution that you should make some consultations with other authorities particularly those in charge of parliament before making the order you made? Justice Cheborion Barishaki asked.
Muhoozi said he trusted the IGP's judgement that he needed backup and it was only a coincidence that on spot there were people competent enough to handle the arrest of VIPs [MPs].
Justice Kakuru asked Mwesigwa if the security operatives gave the MPs the 30 minutes to vacate the House.
"The speaker had adjourned the House so there were no proceedings in parliament...violence had taken place a day before. The speaker comes and says 'those of you who suspended proceedings yesterday, I'm suspending you starting today and I am adjourning this House for 30 minutes to allow you to vacate.' Why did it necessitate the police force to come into the chamber of parliament when their grace period was still on and the speaker had not come back, that is when you would have evicted them in my view....If the speaker had come back that is when they would have defied the speaker's orders."
Mwesigwa said the speaker asked the suspended MPs to vacate the House three times and they started singing the national anthem non stop and the speaker ordered the sergeant at arms that by the time I come back the members who have been suspended must be evicted.
"Where do you draw the line on the liberty and freedom of Ugandans to engage in politics of this country and political persecution of the opposition? Kakuru asked.
Mwesigwa said much as citizens have rights but what is the most important is that their rights do not infringe on the rights of others. Kakuru asked him how police was able to know that by an MP moving another's constituency it would lead to violence. He asked him to cite the law from which he gave orders barring MPs from moving to other constituencies to consult on the age limit law.
"How are we supposed to live? Do you have boundaries?" Kakuru asked.
Mwesigwa said from those that they arrested for disrupting public order at the consultation rallies, it became clear to police that the suspects were not from those respective constituencies hence the police order banning the rallies altogether.
Justice Owiny-Dollo told Mwesigwa that even with a bad law like the Public Order and Management Act (POMA), the police can still do good. He told him to draw examples from the framers of the very law, POMA who have already been caught up with it.
"Even in a bad situation, you can still do good", Justice Owiny Dollo said. He added that the fact that police has to fire teargas to disperse a crowd shows that the police is not respected by the citizenry.
Justice Owiny-Dollo said the country is looking forward to the day when a police commander would walk to a crowd and tell them to move another venue and the crowd adheres rather than police firing teargas to drive the point home.
He said the reason the police is not respected; is more or less down to the way it operates. Mwesigwa said he'd taken notice of the judges' concerns and as police they will reflect.