Uganda Police has warned political actors seeking to exploit the recent court ruling (nullifying some sections of the Police Act) to engage in illegal protests, saying there are other laws including the Penal Code that give Police powers to stop unconstitutional assemblies.
Over a week ago, the Constitutional Court in Kampala nullified some sections of the Police Act, reducing the powers that had initially been granted to Police. Justice Kenneth Kakuru ruled that Section 36 of the Police Act was unconstitutional on account that it authorizes and legitimizes police brutality against innocent citizens.
“The same law goes on to give immunity to the police who kill citizens of this country. Under this law, the police officers cannot be prosecuted or held accountable. The victims cannot get redress through civil suits instituted against individual officers or their supervisors,” reads the ruling in part.
It adds that; “The law as is permits the police to torture, maim, injure and extra judicially execute Ugandans without retribution whatsoever. This law does not just condone, but it authorizes and legitimizes police brutality”.
Many politicians within the opposition welcomed the ruling. Many of them have repeatedly accused the Police of interpreting laws to their advantage to stifle the activities like rallies and meetings of the opposition political parties.
On Monday, the Police spokesperson, CP Fred Enanga said that the court ruling notwithstanding, Police still has constitutional authority to maintain public tranquility.
“Of course the repealing of this Section does not result into an unconstitutional right to holding unlawful assemblies, because of the other provisions in the Penal Code Chapter 8 which permits the Police to police unlawful riots, assemblies and other offences against public tranquility,” Enanga told reporters during a news conference at the Naguru Police headquarters.
“So, this other section continues to apply to all other assemblies including violent protests”.
He said that contrary to reports making rounds on social media, the powers of the Police to control protests have not been clipped.
Enanga said that under the Penal Code, a violent protest is defined as one where one purposefully disturbs or incites the peace and order of any other persons in Uganda.
“That means it still applies to all forms of assemblies that should be held in a peaceful manner or if it diverts from a peaceful objective and it ends up disturbing or inciting, interfering or resisting the administration of law, and acts that are intimidatory”.
He cautioned individuals and groups planning to conduct themselves in a confrontational manner, saying Police still has powers to apply protest control measures. These measures, he said, include use of reasonable force.
Asked to elaborate what reasonable force implies, Enanga said; “This depends on amount of resistance and counter actions of rioters or protesters. Our officers are trained to use; force – body weapons (hands and legs to restrain a violent criminal), baton, hand knife, non-lethal weapons like pepper spray and water to disperse protesters, and use of live ammunition as last resort”.
He said the more resistance the rioter or protester exhibits towards law enforcement, the more Police escalates the force at their disposal.
“We pledge to work with organizers of peaceful protests because it is a constitutionally protected behavior,” the Police spokesperson said.
“Our officers continue to get training, we continue to equip them to deal with all forms of disorders in a calm, just and very humane manner”.
He also explained that such trainings are intended to guard against improper conduct by Police officers.
“There are officers who under fast-moving operations like riots, even without waiting for an order, they fire a teargas canister or other non-lethal methods with no directives from the overall commander”.