Attorney General William Byaruhanga has been blamed for fuelling the current standoff between Uganda Police and other security agencies on one hand, and opposition political leaders Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) and Col Dr Kizza Besigye on the other.
AG Byaruhanga last year authored a letter advising Internal Affairs Minister Gen Jeje Odongo not to allow the opposition leaders to use their constitutionally guaranteed political rights to infringe on the rights of other Ugandans.
In his legal opinion to the minister dated April 29, 2019, titled, “Curbing of Disruptive Activities by Certain Political Actors,” Byaruhanga argued that while Besigye and Bobi Wine are allowed freedom of speech, association, assembly, travel and participation in government affairs, they must not be allowed to “prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.”
Byaruhanga, citing Articles 43 and 44 of the Constitution, told Minister Odongo that Bobi Wine and Besigye’s rights could be “subjected to certain lawful restrictions where conditions warrant such restrictions.”
“While Hon Kyagulanyi and Dr Besigye have a right to move to any part of the country, and to openly express their views on any matter, their movement and political activities may be curtailed if they are deemed prejudicial to the rights and freedoms of others,” he wrote.
Such prejudicial activities, he said may include “disruption of persons going about their business in markets, paralysing of streets and markets, etc.”
The AG’s advice is believed to have formed the foundation for Police’s relentless resistance of Bobi Wine and Dr Besigye’s political activities, including FDC’s meeting at Namboole in November last year and most recently, Bobi Wine’s foiled public consultation meetings.
Byaruhanga’s opinion however, is being challenged by a city lawyer, as misleading and a “rare show of professional dishonesty.”
Counsel Bernard Banturaki this week wrote to Mr Byaruhanga accusing him of deliberately omitting certain key provisions of the law to fit his “scheme to curtail the opposition political activities.”
For instance, the lawyer notes that Byaruhanga conveniently cited only Clause 1 of Article 43 of the Constitution, leaving out Clause 2.
“The provisions of Article 43(2), which you conveniently skirted over, are not compatible with the government’s scheme of curtailing dissenting politics as is visible through the minister’s request,” Banturaki says.
While the first clause prohibits disruption of public interest by political actors, the second clause states that “Public interest under this article shall not permit— (a) political persecution; (b) detention without trial; (c) any limitation of the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed by this Chapter beyond what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, or what is provided in this Constitution.”
“If you had considered Article 43(2) of the constitution, you would have properly advised the minister and his attendant police establishment to desist from acts of political persecution, because article 43(2)(a) provides that public interest shall not permit political persecution or detention without trial,” the lawyer argued.
“I realize that you went ahead to give examples of activities that are prejudicial to the rights and freedoms of others and or the Public Interest. I would rather, you took time to create a checklist of the illegal and unconstitutional things that the minister and the police should not do, because over time, we have gotten to know what they are likely to do.”
Police to date maintains a leash on the open activities of the two opposition leaders, with no clear agreement in sight.
This week, Bobi Wine was forced to halt is nationwide public consultation meetings about his presidential bid, after Police blocked his first three.
On Thursday, the Kyadondo East MP was engaged in a meeting with top police officials and the Electoral Commission, after which he told press that the Police had agreed to revisit its hard-line stance.
Police however, came out yesterday denying Bobi Wine’s claims in a statement, saying he had chosen to “deliberately misinform the public.”
“This conduct showed that they (People Power) seemed not to have understood the objective of the meeting,” wrote Police spokesman Fred Enanga.