U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, issued the following statement Monday after last week's confrontation between police and political opponents in a public market in Uganda's capital city. Ugandan security forces violently dispersed a crowd gathered to hear Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago, firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd and reportedly killing a Kenyan national. Mayor Lukwago and a former presidential aspirant, Kizza Besigye, were detained.
"Respect for freedom of expression and political dissent is a cornerstone of a democratic society. The violent suppression of speech at Thursday's rally in Kampala is just the most recent example in a long line of troubling behavior, silencing voices of dissent and opposition. While I recognize and value Uganda's leadership in combatting terrorism and promoting stability in the region, I am increasingly concerned about the trajectory of Uganda's democracy. The government of Uganda should immediately cease its assault on free expression and hold its security forces accountable to international human rights norms. The Obama Administration should also take a strong stance against this trend ahead of the President's trip to sub-Saharan Africa later this week."
In May, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni ordered the closure of four independent media houses for running stories critical of his government. While they were allowed to reopen 10 days later, they were forced to apologize and agree to refrain from publishing stories the government might find offensive in the future.