By Immaculate Amony

In a press statement issued on Monday morning,  Human Rights watch,  an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights asked government of Uganda to Investigate University raids, beatings and hold those responsible accountable.

The Uganda police and military have cracked down on student protests over fee increases at Makerere University in Kampala on multiple occasions since October 22, 2019, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. The security forces have fired teargas into student residences, raided dormitories, 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.

The human rights body said Ugandan government should urgently carry out fair and transparent investigations and hold accountable security forces who have used excessive force against protesters and otherwise abused their authority.

“Uganda’s armed forces are apparently using disproportionate violence against student protests and journalists trying to cover them,” said Mr Nyeko Oryem, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Mr Oryem said “The government should immediately end abusive crackdowns and hold those responsible for any abuses to account in a fair and transparent manner.”

Human Rights Watch said they have interviewed multiple witnesses to the attacks.

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.

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.

“They would ask questions and tell us to sing the national anthem and beat us whether we responded or not,” the student said. “They would say things like, ‘You say this. Why were you guys throwing stones at us?’ Some were saying, ‘You guys think you can overthrow this government?’” Police then drove him and five others to the police station in Wandegeya, a kilometer from the university, where several other students were also detained.

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 Ndyabahika’s equipment, Ndyabahika and other witnesses said.

“I started taking photos of the incident as other journalists were recording clips of what was happening,” he said. “This [officer-in-charge], with three stars, [was] coming for me and held my left arm and twisted it. I think his intention was to arrest me.”  The police did not arrest Ndyabahika after a group of other journalists intervened.

Uganda and international laws protects basic freedom of speech and assembly and the right to protest peacefully. Mr Oryem said security forces may only use force where necessary and proportionate, but they again appear to have far exceeded these limits.

“The government should allow students to protest peacefully and should not use excessive force to infringe on their right to protest,” Nyeko said, adding “The authorities should allow the media to cover these events, conduct credible and transparent investigations of the alleged abuses by security forces, and publicize the findings.”