Ugandan police and military personnel have cracked down on students who are protesting over fee increases at Makerere University in Kampala on multiple occasions since October 22, 2019. The security forces have fired teargas into student residences, raided dormitories, and beaten and arrested students, detaining dozens for days without charge.
The police have also arrested journalists and prevented them from entering the university to cover the protests. The authorities have accused opposition politicians of paying students to protest and the media of reporting false news about security forces attacking students.
“Uganda’s armed forces are apparently using disproportionate violence against student protests and journalists trying to cover them,” said Oryem Nyeko, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The crackdowns started on October 22, when 12 female students staged a protest on campus over a fee increase. Police arrested them but released them later that day.
On October 23, students continued to protest, and police arrested 20 of them. On October 24, as protests continued, soldiers surrounded two residence halls and fired teargas into the students’ rooms. Media also reported that soldiers forced students to roll on the ground outside a hall half-dressed.
One student told Human Rights Watch that, after soldiers fired teargas into his room, he jumped out of the window to escape the smoke and was arrested by soldiers waiting outside. He said soldiers took him to a military vehicle, where they beat and taunted him.
Later that evening, students said, soldiers stormed Lumumba Hall, a student dormitory, and attacked the residents. Witnesses said that the soldiers indiscriminately beat students, including those with disabilities, and destroyed their property. Several students were admitted to the Makerere University Hospital with injuries. Human Rights Watch visited Lumumba Hall on October 26 and saw broken doors, mirrors, and television sets.
On the morning of October 25, security forces blocked from the university journalists trying to attend a news conference by students with disabilities who had been attacked the previous day and ordered journalists already there to leave.
Outside the room, police then attacked a journalist, Davidson Ndyabahika, as he took photos of a policeman striking a blind student, damaging his photo equipment, Ndyabahika and other witnesses said.
University authorities have continued to block journalists from entering the campus, and on October 29, police arrested at least three journalists, but released them later that day.
In a statement, police denied beating students who were at the news conference and said that “none of the disabled students was arrested or manhandled.”
On November 1, the military spokesman, Richard Karemire, announced that Capt. Ronald Lubeera, who he said led troops at the university, had been arrested and detained at the military barracks in Makindye in Kampala and that a board of inquiry had been set up to “establish details of what happened and findings will guide the next course of action.”
The government has promised to investigate allegations of abuse by the military in the past, but these investigations have not released their findings.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented that Ugandan forces beat and arrested journalists covering protests.
In April, the Uganda Communications Commission ordered 13 media organizations to suspend their staff after they reported on the arrest of opposition politicians. In October, it directed five of the media outlets to explain why their licenses should not be suspended, cautioned several others, and suspended a radio show.
Ugandan and international law protects basic freedoms of speech and assembly and the right to protest peacefully. (Source: HRW)