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EU Condemns Internet Shutdown, Security Excesses as Uganda Votes

A brief statement issued by the Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in Brussels does not comment on the outcome of the elections, just saying “The European Union takes note of the results of the presidential elections declared by the Electoral Commission in Uganda.”
20 Jan 2021 18:55
The European Union welcomes the non-violence presidential and parliamentary elections in Uganda last week, but condemns the pre-election excesses by the security forces.

A brief statement issued by the Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in Brussels does not comment on the outcome of the elections, just saying “The European Union takes note of the results of the presidential elections declared by the Electoral Commission in Uganda.” 

It says that while the EU welcomes that no major violent incidents were reported on election day, it regrets what it calls “the disproportionate role given to security forces during the elections”, which it says brought forth violence in the pre-electoral period, harassment of opposition leaders, suppression of civil society actors and media, and the raiding of a domestic observers’ office.

On the election day, Thursday, police raided Hotel Africana in Kampala where a group of civil society activists and election observers were collecting data from locations across the country. Police Spokesman Fred Enanga said the group had established their own tally centre which is against the rules. 

“The persons who are in control of this election are the electoral commission. You cannot know what motive the people behind this parallel tally centre had. They could be having ulterior motives which might incite violence in this country. The law only allows the Electoral Commission to announce election results,” Enanga said.

The EU statement also condemns the shutting down of the internet which disrupted social media. “Access to social media was disturbed, and a full internet blackout disrupted the freedom of expression, freedom of information, and regular economic and social activities. In particular, this severely hampered the work of journalists, observers, party agents and others expected to report on the polling results and scrutinise them,” it says.

The government directed the Uganda Communications Commission to block social media sites particularly Facebook after the company suspended dozens of accounts of pro-government bloggers. Hours later on the polling day, however, there was a total internet blackout.

The EU statement calls on the Government to respect the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful and safe assembly, including the free movement of all political actors and their supporters. The government has also maintained heavy security personnel at the residences of some opposition candidates, to allegedly prevent possible incitement of violence.

“The EU is gravely concerned by the continued harassment of political actors and parts of civil society. In line with its laws, international commitments and obligations, the government must ensure that security services act with restraint, that any violations or abuses are duly and impartially investigated, and that those responsible are held to account,” it adds.

As the country continues with the rest of the elections, the EU calls on calls on all parties to refrain from any form of violence as well as from statements and actions that may incite violence. The EU advises for election challenges and complaints to be addressed in an independent and transparent the manner through the available constitutional and legal remedies.

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