KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — An American journalist who was arrested while filming an opposition rally faces deportation for working in Uganda without proper documentation, a government official said Friday, but the journalist himself insisted he was targeted by police who worried he would expose their brutality against protesters.
The arrest comes as the Ugandan police are cracking down on opposition protests in Kampala, the capital.
The journalist, an independent documentary filmmaker named Taylor Krauss, is due for “an organized departure” from the East African country, said Benjamin Kagiremire, a spokesman for Uganda’s Ministry of Internal Affairs.
“The decision has already been taken and we are processing his ticket,” he said.
Krauss, who has been in police custody since Tuesday afternoon, said he was arrested while filming a violent confrontation between supporters of a protest leader and police who fired tear gas. He said he had been subjected to “intensive interrogation” by officials who searched his hotel room and seized his passport and equipment.
“I believe it was because I filmed an event that was politically sensitive,” he said.
Ugandan police have mounted a crackdown on protest rallies in Kampala, even restricting the movements of the mayor, an opposition politician who is a fierce critic of President Yoweri Museveni.
Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago is one of the leaders of an activist group that is trying to spark a wider political movement against Museveni, who has held power in this East African country for 27 years. On Monday — the day protest leaders planned to launch another round of street demonstrations — Lukwago’s house was surrounded by police, effectively putting him under house arrest.
The police restrictions of Lukwago’s movements mean that he cannot see much of Kampala beyond his residence.
“This is a national tragedy,” the mayor said. “There is public despondency on matters of the law in Uganda.”
Museveni, who took power by force in 1986, is accused of wanting to rule for life and of encouraging corruption that benefits his cronies in business and politics while most Ugandans remain poor. This year, after Western donors cut direct budgetary support over their concerns about corruption, the Museveni government announced new taxes that critics say will be felt more by the poorest Ugandans. Kerosene, a combustible liquid that many here use to light lamps, will be taxed, as will water consumed by households.
The new taxes are one of the reasons cited by activists who charge the government has lost touch with ordinary Ugandans. But their attempts to connect with supporters through rallies have been thwarted by police, often leading to violent encounters as police fire live bullets and tear gas to disperse crowds who sometimes fight back by throwing rocks.
The activist group responsible for the protests —4GC, which stands for the national motto “For God and My Country” — was declared an illegal organization by the country’s attorney general, one of the reasons given by police as they crack down on its activities. To restrict the movements of anti-government activists, police have begun launching pre-dawn raids on their homes and putting them under “preventive arrest.” The tactics have effectively made Kampala a no-go zone for opposition activism.
Frederick Ssempebwa, a law professor at Uganda’s Makerere University, said Uganda could no longer be described as a functioning democracy despite the regularity of elections.
“It’s just an autocracy,” he said. “It’s really a dictatorship.”
Ssempebwa, who helped draft Uganda’s constitution, said the pre-emptive arrests of opposition activists was illegal “executive action.”
Police insist their tactics are simply to maintain public order in the city.
“He is supposed to inform us so that we provide security,” said Patrick Onyango, a police spokesman, referring to the Kampala mayor. “He will hold rallies again when we have reviewed and have known that they will mobilize people for development, for a noble cause.”
Uganda’s next election is still three years away, and it remains unclear if Museveni will run again. He faces growing opposition even within the ruling party as more officials previously close to him mount challenges that once were unthinkable.
A former deputy president has announced plans to seek the presidency in 2016 and a four-star general who sat on the military’s high command recently defected to London and accused Museveni of wanting to keep power within his family at all costs.