Kampala, Uganda — Human rights activists are demanding for the immediate and unconditional release of local music artist, Gerald Kiwewa, Bizonto comedians and Baba TV talk show host, Abby Ssewakiryanga alias Basajja Mivule.
Kiwewa was arrested five days ago for allegedly defaming Kayunga Woman MP, Idah Erios Nantaba in his song named Nantaba. Bizonto comedians were arrested on Friday last week on allegations of promoting sectarianism while Mivule was picked up on Monday on similar charges.
The comedians ran in trouble when they produced a skit asking Ugandans to teach their children to pray for top leaders in the country. The said leaders included President Yoweri Museveni, Electoral Commission chairperson, Simon Byabakama, Uganda Revenue Commissioner General, John Musinguzi, Central Bank Governor, Emmanuel Tusiime Mutebile, the Finance Ministry Permanent Secretary, Keith Muhakanizi and Deputy Inspector General of Police, Sabiiti Muzeyi among others.
The list comprises leaders from Western Uganda which police say promotes sectarianism which is punishable in Ugandan laws. The arrests haven't gone down well with human rights activists saying they tantamount to violation of freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in the Constitution.
In a statement issued this morning, human rights lawyer, Eron Kiiza calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the comedians saying they have stayed under police custody beyond the mandatory 48 hours.
"The spate of senseless arrests, harassment, illegal detention and trampling of freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights and freedoms grinds to a halt" said Kiiza. He also wants the officers responsible for the detention of artistes contrary to the 1995 Uganda Constitution and Human Rights (Enforcement) Act, 2019 fired from the police force and prosecuted.
"These police apologists of sectarianism have no brakes in their unmitigated hostility towards comedians or artistes whose voices do not recite from the hymn book of National Resistance Movement (NRM) or President Museveni. They cloak their intimidation and campaign efforts for NRM under the auspices of Uganda Police Force. This is illegal," he said.
Sylvia Namubiru, the executive director Legal Aid Service Providers Network-LASPNET told URN in a phone interview that what Bizonto comedians are doing is to attract government attention to an issue that needs to be addressed. She says feedback helps in good governance and strengthening democracy.
"From Bizonto to Kiwewa and now Basajja Mivule. I think it is more of an intimidation to the artistes from doing their work and speaking because Ugandans have a right to demonstrate and speak about the things that affect them. The right to demonstration has been curtailed," Namubiru said.
Ivan Bwowe, another activist described the actions of police as a violation of freedom of expression. Bwowe was part of the group that waited in vain for the production of Bizonto comedians at City Hall on Monday. He says they have since dispatched teams to City Hall, Buganda road court and Criminal Investigation Division-CID offices in Kibuli to follow up on the matter.
Oryem Nyeko, the human rights watch researcher African division on Monday reminded government to uphold its obligations under multiple African and international treaties to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression.
"Arresting comedians for making a satirical video makes a mockery of this important right. And with mere months until general elections, the government should be taking steps to ensure people can freely exercise their rights to free expression, assembly, and opinion, instead of arresting them for it," said Nyeko.