Rights Commission has defended the government’s shut down of the internet
during last week’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The Acting Commission
Chairperson Dr. Katebalirwe Amooti Wa Irumba, says government evoked article 43
of the Constitution that provides for limitation of fundamental rights.
Although he distanced himself from the conclusion that the Commission was
justifying the government actions, Dr. Katebalirwe said some opposition members
went into the election to push for regime change in a manner that defeats the
aim of an election. He says security made an assessment that guided the government
decision to shut down the internet, which was done within the law.
Dr. Katebalirwe says the public needs to know that some of
their rights are not absolute and can be suspended for the bigger good like
protecting the country.
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Dr. Katebalirwe says a lot happened during the elections including the November
2020 riots that followed the arrest of the National Unity Platform-presidential
candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi. At least 54 people were killed during the
protests that broke out simultaneously in different parts of the country.
Katebalirwe says some sections of the public announced that
they would defy any laws and guidelines set by the Electoral Commission. "In
fact during the campaigns themselves, some people concentrated on using their
time to do defiance and therefore perpetuating conflict with security forces,
sometimes physically. Instead of concentrating on passing the message in
whatever limited way to the electorate ..." said Dr. Katebalirwe.
There has been an argument that the shutdown of internet affected the
credibility of the election since the public couldn't receive and disseminate
as much information as they could through internet platforms. Access to
information Act 2005 gives a right to access, impart and disseminate
Some Civil Society Organizations, the opposition and members of the public, say
the internet shutdown cast doubt on the ability of the Electoral Commission to
deliver a credible free and fair election. Opposition parties like NUP, whose
candidate Robert Kyagulanyi was the first runners up in the elections, had
planned to use their newly launched U-Vote app to monitor elections.
The plan was grossly affected by the internet shut down. Asked
if the shutdown affected the credibility of the Election especially, Dr.
Katebalirwe said he doesn't agree with such reasoning because NUP for instance
still scored high in areas where it was strong.
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Dr. Katebalirwe also spoke about the heavy security deployment during the
elections. He said while a few people said they had been intimidated to vote
due to the deployment, majority felt secure in the presence of security. He
says that in places like Kampala people flee in anticipation of violence but
that didn't happen.
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The Commission however noted that polling materials arrived late at some
polling stations, bio metric machines failed to work in some cases, while some
staff of the Electoral Commission were not trained well to use the machines. Conclusively, the human rights body says the government was able to deliver a
free, fair and peaceful elections.