The country’s new Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) bill would give the government the ability to approve, inspect, and dissolve all community groups and NGOs based on a number of criteria – as well as to impose harsh fines.
One clause would require charities to “not engage in any activity which is contrary to the dignity of the people of Uganda” – which proponents fear could be used to clamp down on gay rights groups.
It would also allow groups to be disbanded “where it is in the public interest to refuse to register the organisation, or for any other reason that the Board may deem relevant.”
Nicholas Opiyo of civil liberties group Chapter Four Uganda said: “If this bill is passed in its current form, it will obstruct the ability of all Ugandans to work collectively through local and international organizations on any research or advocacy that may be deemed critical of the government.
“Vague and overly broad provisions open the door to silencing peaceful government critics and activists of all sorts.
“Uganda’s development partners and African regional bodies and indeed any government that supports civil society worldwide should vigorously object to this bill. The run-up to the 2016 elections is a time to encourage divergent views, not clamp down on them.”
Maria Burnett of Human Rights Watch said: “Criminalizing behavior that is inherently legitimate guts the very essence of the right to freedom of association. The possibility of long prison terms for carrying out civic work without a permit should be scrapped, along with many other provisions.”
Uganda previously passed an Anti-Homosexuality Act increasing harsh penalties on gay people – but it was struck down by the country’s Supreme Court last year.
The country has been considering a range of replacement legislation.