September 27, 2017 / 12:09 PM / in 24 days

Uganda bans live coverage after House fistfights, protests against Museveni

KAMPALA, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Fistfights in parliament have led Uganda to ban live broadcasts of events “inciting the public,” according to a notice from its communications regulator.

The fights broke out in parliament on Tuesday between lawmakers opposing plans to change laws and extend President Yoweri Museveni’s rule and those in favour. The lawmakers threw punches, hurled chairs and shoved and banged on benches.

Uganda’s two major privately owned TV stations, including a local unit of Kenya’s Nation Media Group, and some radio stations carried the proceedings live.

Uganda Communications Commission said in a notice on Wednesday that radios and television stations should stop live broadcasts of events that “are inciting the public, discriminating, stirring up hatred, promoting a culture of violence ... and are likely to create public insecurity.”

The notice was dated Sep. 26, but a commission executive, Godfrey Mutabazi, told Reuters it was sent to all broadcast media on Wednesday morning.

Critics say the action underscores a crackdown in the East African country against anyone questioning a planned constitutional amendment.

Under the existing constitution, eligibility to stand as a presidential candidate has an age ceiling of 75 years. That makes Museveni, 73, in power for more than three decades, unqualified to seek re-election at the next polls in 2021. Removing the age cap would clear that hurdle.

The proposal to change the constitution has met widespread opposition from rights activists, the political opposition, religious leaders and from some members of Museveni’s own ruling party.

Since last week, when a motion to kick-start the amendment process was supposed to be read but never made it to the floor, both police and military personnel have been deployed around the parliament and many parts of the capital, Kampala.

Protests by students and opposition activists and supporters in Kampala against the legislative measure - sometimes broadcast live - have been put down with teargas and arrests of scores.

Media in Uganda routinely complain of harassment by security personnel. Journalists say they have been beaten, detained or their equipment damaged or confiscated during coverage of anti-government demonstrations.

On Tuesday, anti-government protests also occurred in other parts of the country, including in the northern town of Lira. Three local journalists there were arrested as they covered the protests, according to Hudson Apunyo, an official in a journalists’ association in the area.

Robert Ssempala, national coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, said banning live broadcasts was “to shut out Ugandans and keep them in the dark on the age limit debate” after the measure met broad resistance. (Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa, Larry King)

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