Tuesday, 04th March, 2014
Press statement: For immediate release.
Space for journalists to operate freely in Uganda has continued to narrow down according to the Press Freedom Index Report, 2013, an annual assessment of media rights violations and attacks against journalists released by Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda).
“The increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association are a matter of serious concern that requires collective efforts and responsibilities to abate. Journalists are beaten by Police that is supposed to protect them, media houses censure information for fear of being closed by the state machinery, peaceful assemblies and demonstrations are stopped hence narrowing the space and limiting the platforms for free exchange of opinions and ideas,” said Robert Ssempala, the National Coordinator of HRNJ-Uganda.
The Report titled: ‘Narrowing Space: Media Under Siege’ highlights the state of media freedom in Uganda as evidenced by practical cases investigated and documented by HRNJ-Uganda. Police remains the biggest violator of media freedoms in the country. Of the 124 violations documented in 2013, 85 were by the Police: of these, 51 were physical in nature. In 2012, however, 46 cases of violations were committed by the Police of the 86 recorded in that year; an indication of a deteriorating relationship between the Police and journalists.
With no known prosecutions implemented against state agents of Uganda Police Force that have been since implicated in perpetrating abuses against journalists, impunity continued to reign in 2013. Despite reported cases at the Professional Standards Unit (PSU), there has been no report of progress from the police in as far as investigations and bringing the suspects to justice is concerned. This is in a way perceived as a silent sanction of the unprofessional conduct of the implicated officers.
The unabated use of national security to clamp down on media rights in Uganda-buttressed by Article 43 of the Constitution continued in 2013 as evidenced by the closure of The Monitor Publications and the Red Pepper for ten (10) days.
The ‘replacement’ of law with negotiated settlement is a precarious precedent in the quest for media freedom in Uganda. The negotiated re-opening of Daily Monitor and compelling it to sign ‘undertakings’ defined outside the law was an avenue for government sneak in its own interests into the laws governing media freedom.
The excess of laws that seek to control rather than regulate freedom of expression increased in 2013. These laws such as the Uganda Communications Act 2013, and the Public Order Management Act 2013 contravene constitutional provisions and international standards. These laws have been used to intimidate the media from reporting freely on a number of issues.
“A country where free flow of information is restricted and people are intimidated for speaking out their minds and where journalists are blocked and stopped from disseminating information, is retrogressive” said Ssempala.