Uganda: Controversial NGO bill passed on eve of pope's arrival

Ugandan lawmakers unanimously passed a bill that would give authorities sweeping powers to regulate civil society, which rights groups say will "strangle" criticism of the government, just before Pope Francis arrived on a visit.

Civil society groups say the legislation gives the government unprecedented powers, including the ability to shut down non-governmental organisations and jail their members. Activist and lawyer Nicholas Opiyo said the passing of the law "strikes at the heart of civic forms of organising, restricts civic space and association rights."

Gay rights groups are particularly worried that if the bill is passed they might be targeted in a country that has previously passed tough anti-homosexuality legislation, which was later overturned on a technicality. Groups working on sensitive issues such as oil, land ownership and corruption also fear it could stifle their efforts.

But the government says the law is aimed at supporting rights groups and aid agencies.

Under the bill, Uganda's internal affairs minister and national board for NGOs have powers to supervise, approve, inspect and dissolve an organisation if "it is in the public interest to do so."   Read more via AFP