The Government violated rights to freedom of expression and assembly
during the COVID 19 lokcdown. This is according to law experts who convened at
Mestil Hotel during the launch of a special issue journal on Freedom of
Expression, Assembly and Access to Information.
The journal published by Makerere University Human Rights and Peace Center was
reviewed by Makerere University law dons Professor Frederick Jjuuko, John Jean Barya and Catherine Anite,
the Director of Freedom of Expression Hub.
Professor Jjuuko says in the enforcement of COVID 19 regulations, the government
adopted a criminal and coercive approach which was not called for. He says for
instance people were imprisoned for making statements that the government said had the
potential to spread a contagious disease.
In March, police arrested Pastor Augustine Yiga of Revival Church Kawala, Rubaga Division in Kampala over
controversial statements he made in regards to the coronavirus pandemic. The late pastor said coronavirus is non-existent
adding it is just simple flu.
Professor Jjuuko agrees with the authors of the journal. He says
that the government shouldn't regulate information that is based on reality and facts.
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Barya says COVID 19 advanced the agenda of non-democratic states.
He alluded to deaths that occurred as security enforced covid-19 guidelines which he says were non-existent in the first place.
At the height of the lockdown, security personnel were accused of
brutality while enforcing the presidential directives. Several people were killed,
arrested and injured.
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Professor Barya adds that respect for freedom of Assembly has been
abused citing the Electoral Commission’s guidelines on virtual campaigns.
In June, the Electoral Commission banned all mass gatherings as a
means of curbing the spread of COVID-19. The
commission advised candidates to conduct campaigns on radio and television, in
newspapers and on the internet.
Barya says there is no way an election can be conducted within the
set rules while respecting the right to freedom of Assembly. He says the
government would have declared a State of Emergency and postponed the elections.
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Anite, says that freedom of expression is not an absolute right but argues that limitation to its enjoyment should be precise and clear and clearly state the legitimate purpose.
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The Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo said freedom to enjoy life overrides
all other freedoms.
He says he would jail 15 people for failing to follow regulations
but save thousands of lives.