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Uganda

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Last updated on 31.05.2022 at 12:12

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Journalists under siege as authorities escalate assaults, raids and arrests

Journalists under siege as authorities escalate assaults, raids and arrests

Authorities escalate attacks on journalists and media outlets as arrests, attacks and raids increase

Expression

On 1st February 2022, Police officers assaulted two NBS journalists, Eddie Kisseka and Samalie Kisakye, while covering a story on police officers receiving bribes from boda bodas (motorcycle riders) operating during curfew hours. The journalists claim that once the policemen realised that they were recording, they grabbed the camera and physically assaulted them, causing injuries to the journalists.

Responding to the incident, Robert Ssempala, Executive Director of the human rights network for journalists-Uganda, said:

“We condemn this act of violence against the journalists who were in the line of duty. The attack violates Article 40(2) of the 1995 Constitution which provides that every person in Uganda has the right to practise his or her profession and to carry on any lawful occupation, trade or business. We therefore implore the Uganda Police Force to handle the matter professionally and timely so that the journalists get justice.”

On 7th March 2022, freelance Ugandan based Spanish journalist Sadurni Carrasco Sumaya and her driver died in a car accident in Kiryandongo District. Faridah Nampiiga, the Public Relations Officer in the Police Traffic and Road Safety Department, reported that the duo died instantly in a head-on collision involving their car and a Fuso truck; and the truck driver escaped. Nampiima stated that police in Kiryadongo were looking for the driver. Opposition Members of Parliament however demanded an investigation into the journalist's reportedly "mysterious" death. According to Joyce Bagala, the Shadow Information Minister, the Spanish journalist covered Uganda's general elections in 2021 despite alleged intimidation, and her death in this manner raises questions.

On 10th March 2022, the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) raided the Alternative Digitalk TV, an online television platform, and confiscated equipment, including cameras, computers and the station's mobile van. Additionally, the UPDF arrested nine staff members, namely Tumuhimbise Norman, Mukose Arnold, Faridah Bikobere, Jeremiah Mukiibi, Tumusiime Kato, Tulyahabwe Roger, Nabukeera Teddy Teangle, Lillian Luwedde and Wabyona Jeje Jacob. The security forces did not disclose the reason for the arrests. However, Tumuhimbise was due to launch a book critical of President Yoweri Museveni on 30th March.

On 14th March 2022, the group's lawyers, led by Eron Kiiza, filed a plea in Kampala's High Court civil division, seeking orders for the group's mandatory and unconditional release after they had been detained for longer than the constitutional limit of 48 hours. According to their lawyer, the nine journalists were denied access to their lawyers and family members whilst in detention.

Separately but in a similar vein, 12 plainclothes officers also raided the Vision Group offices on the same day Alternative Digitalk TV was raided by UPDF officers (above). The security officers allegedly intended to detain Lawrence Kitatta, a Vision Group journalist who covered a demonstration on 21st February 2022 against Deputy Speaker Among's alleged mockery of MP Francis Zaake. While covering the protest, Kitatta was assaulted by a security officer attached to the Presidential Protection Guard who was guarding the Deputy Speaker. Kitatta claims he fears for his life and was receiving threats from unknown people since covering the protest. 

Association in Uganda

In January 2016, the president signed the Non-Governmental Organisations Act into law.

In January 2016, the president signed the Non-Governmental Organisations Act into law.Although the final version of the Act does not contain many of the problematic provisions of the draft bill, the legislation still places limits on the independence of organisations and the freedom of association. For instance, the act bars organisations from doing anything that would be deemed as prejudicial to the ‘security of Uganda’ and the ‘interests of Uganda and the dignity of Ugandans’.Some organisations have argued that the inclusion of the vague term ‘dignity’ is aimed at targeting and limiting the work of LGBTI organisations in Uganda that have faced significant challenges in recent years. Organisations and human rights defenders are subject to intimidation and face physical attacks, threats and harassment by state and non-state actors. On several occasions, the premises of human rights organisations have been the targets of suspicious robberies, during which computers and other documents have been stolen.

Peaceful Assembly in Uganda

Although a constitutionally protected right, the authorities have violently supressed peaceful demonstrations and police have routinely arrested protesters, especially in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

Although a constitutionally protected right, the authorities have violently supressed peaceful demonstrations and police have routinely arrested protesters, especially in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The Public Order Management Law (POMA), passed in 2013, contains unjustifiable restrictions on the right to assemble peacefully. For example, the legislation grants the police discretionary powers to prohibit public meetings if they are not deemed to be in the ‘public interest’. Under that mandate, the police have disrupted many public assemblies organised by opposition political parties and student movements, arresting the organisers in the process. POMA also gives enforcement agencies power to use broad force to disperse assemblies. On 15 February 2016, police used excessive force to disperse protesters who were calling for the release of opposition candidate Kizza Besigye. As a result, one person was killed and several others were wounded.

Expression in Uganda

Uganda has one of the more vibrant media environments in the region; however, in practice the government restricts the exercise of the right to free expression, using intimidation and attacks against independent journalists and tactics that close spaces for a plural and diverse media.

Uganda has one of the more vibrant media environments in the region; however, in practice the government restricts the exercise of the right to free expression, using intimidation and attacks against independent journalists and tactics that close spaces for a plural and diverse media. The space for journalists to practise unhindered became even more restricted in the run-up to and during elections. For example, the government closed radio stations that granted airtime to opposition candidates, and arrested radio journalist Richard Mungu Jakican while he was conducting an interview regarding the presidential elections. Moreover, on election day, the government ordered the telecommunication providers to shut down all social media platforms due to ‘security concerns’. Criminal defamation legislation is still in place and used to silence critical voices. Although there is an access to information law in Uganda, the Official Secrets Act of 1964 has not been repealed and can be used to limit access to information. Government has also ordered media to dedicate one hour of broadcasting per week to government programmes.