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Media freedoms in Uganda remain under state attack

Robert Sempala the Executive Director Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (FILE PHOTO)

The space for freedom of expression and of the media has remained under attack with more journalists facing human rights violations while in the line of duty.

This was revealed by Mr Robert Sempala the Executive Director Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda during the Launch of the 2017 Press Freedom Report index in Kampala.

He said this is in the context of general decline in human rights observance in the country where several other freedoms, such as the freedom of assembly, also continue to reduce.

“These violations and abuses are by State and non-state actors facilitated by a legal regime that still hosts provisions that undermine media freedoms,” he adds.

According to the report a total of 113 cases of violations and abuses were reported in 2017 and the Police were again the leading violators of media freedoms accounting for 83 cases out 113 (73%).

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and the Judiciary followed in distant second and third positions with six (5.3%) and four (3.5%) cases respectively.

Police violations include, among others, 45 arrests and detentions; 21 incidents of assault; and seven cases of malicious damage to journalists’ equipment.

Mr Sempala added that there were few violations by non-state actors including private security personnel, Members of parliament and mobs.

The percentage of women journalists who suffered violations and abuses remains similar to previous years at 12% (13 cases). However, in 2017, one female journalist was kidnapped and tortured while some others were brutalised by Police.

A Police officer charges towards a photo-journalist covering trial of Ex- Buyende DPC Muhammad Kirumira(COURTESY PHOTO)

He further added that many laws still remain in force to limit freedom of expression. They include the Computer Misuse Act 2011 and the Uganda Communication Act (Amended 2016)

The report further points to the fact that reporters, especially television journalists suffered violations most.

The campaign to amend Article 102(b) of the Constitution to remove the 75 year cap for presidential aspirants (Age Limit Campaign) provided extensive context during which journalists suffered a range of abuses and violations.

The Index observes that the struggle for control of cyberspace intensified in 2017 with this platform becoming the new front-line in the war against freedom of expression.

The Computer Misuse Act 2011, one of the laws to regulate cyber activity, contains broad and vague provisions used by both the Police and the communication regulator, UCC to curtail freedom of expression.

“Uganda Communications Commission, in particular, has exploited sections of the laws in ways that call to question the immense power it commands and legality of some of its action in a democratic dispensation,” it reads in part.

The Index also observes the continued impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of media freedoms in spite of the existence of laws and institutions under which they should be held accountable. Violations and abuses against journalists such as assault, malicious damage to property, issuance of threats including death threats and torture have gone unpunished even when diligently reported by the victims to relevant authorities.

The report thus makes several recommendations to various stakeholders including the leadership of the Uganda Police Force to take measures to ensure that police officers that perpetrate violations against the media are disciplined.

Human rights defenders should engage the Police Administration to develop a training module for the Police training schools in media rights and the role of the media in society.

The Development Partners’ community is urged to tailor support to the
Uganda Police to human rights observance.

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