DemocracyALERT: Uganda Must Free Election Observer Perry Aritua
On January 14, the Ugandan authorities arrested Perry Aritua and other accredited election observers. This is an affront to the rule of law and the principle of free and fair elections. The World Movement for Democracy condemns these arrests as baseless, demands that all charges be dropped, and that she and the 25 colleagues who were arrested alongside her be released immediately.
Ms. Aritua, the Director of the Women’s Democracy Network in Uganda, was monitoring the country’s elections at a civil society observer center at the Africana Hotel in Kampala on Thursday when the police raided the center. Police confiscated laptops and arrested her and 25 other people working there. They are reportedly facing a charge of “observing the election without accreditation” despite the fact that everyone was duly accredited by the Electoral Commission for both the campaigns and elections. They are currently being held at two police stations in Kampala.
Tragically, her arrest fits into a broader crackdown by the Museveni regime against political opponents and human rights activists leading up to the January 14 election. For example, many local civil society members and international observers who sought accreditation from the Electoral Commission never received a response. In addition, on December 23, human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo of Chapter Four Uganda was detained on baseless allegations of money laundering (released on bail pending trial). These events before the election appear to be a well-orchestrated campaign to prevent any transparency in the electoral process, to silence voices supporting democracy, and to prevent the possibility of a free and fair election.
Civil society must be allowed to conduct its legitimate work to ensure that government institutions abide by the law. Ms. Aritua, who has attended the World Movement Global Assembly, is a paragon of an engaged citizen who works to defend her country’s democratic ideals. She and her colleagues should be released immediately.