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Ugandan bill targeting civic groups raises alarm

July 3, 2015

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A bill seeking to regulate the operations of civic groups in Uganda has drawn alarm from activists who say it will hamper their operations and might be used to target those seen as opposed to the government of the country’s long-serving leader.

The draft legislation gives the interior minister and a national board the authority to approve, inspect and dissolve civic groups. If passed, the law would also impose penalties for violations, including jail terms of up to eight years for offenses such as operating without a permit.

The transparency group Global Witness on Friday called the bill draconian and an attempt by President Yoweri Museveni’s government to silence its critics.

“Civil society groups that uncover corruption, scrutinize government decision-making and protect the rights of the vulnerable are an integral part of any functioning democracy,” said Global Witness campaigner George Boden. “This law will fundamentally undermine their ability to operate. The international community, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars supporting civil society in order to bolster democracy in Uganda, must act now or see their efforts undermined with the stroke of a pen.”

Some 13 groups, including Human Rights Watch, said this week that independent groups face an increasingly hostile environment as Uganda prepares for elections in 2016. The groups warned that the bill, if passed, would subject independent groups to extensive government control and interference.

Ugandan officials insist many civic groups operate in this East African country without the necessary oversight, and that some might engage in activities for which they do not have a permit. But activists say the bill goes too far and are urging a parliamentary committee to strike out parts of it that they deem unnecessary.

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