Police maintains lead in violation of press freedoms

For the ninth year in a row, the Uganda Police Force is topping the list of violators of press freedoms and rights according the Press Freedom Index report 2017.

The report compiled by Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ-U) documented a total of 113 cases of which 83 cases accounting for 73% were by the police.

The cases according to Robert Ssempala, the HRNJ-U Executive Director, included 45 arrests and detentions, 21 incidents of assault, seven cases of malicious damage of Journalists’ equipment while at work among others.

“Journalists met with police brutality while pursuing investigative stories and also during debates over the amendement of Article 102(b) of the Constitution,” Ssempala said.

The report states that, the Police sometimes connives with the Judiciary which is responsible for four (3.5%) violations to commit violations.

A case in point is the April 21, 2017 order issued by deputy registrar of the High Court’s Civil Division, Joy Kabagye Bahinguza, directing journalists and media houses to refrain from publishing any news about the murder and investigations of the former Police spokesman AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesa.

The order was issued on request of the then IGP Gen Kale Kayihura who argued that media coverage of the murder investigations was “injurious to the investigations underway, national security and prejudicial to the workings of the security agencies of Uganda.”

“Consequently,the order got journalists in trouble, notably is Stanley Ndawula of the Investigator Online News who was arrested and details at police for continuing to dig up on the Kaweesi murder case,” the report reads in part.

The report also documented the case of Twaha Mukiibi a journalist at NBS TV who sustained injuries after he was severely beaten by police officers during the arrest of a aelf-confessed former gang leader, Paddy Sserunjogi aka Sobi on January 18.

The 9th press freedom index report launch on Friday by the Danish Ambassador

Ranking in second position is media regulator; Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) with six documented cases of violation of media freedoms.

“UCC has used laws like the Computer Misuse Act of 2011 and the Uganda Communications Act to curtail media freedom; UCC as the regulator of Media seems to have failed at its role,” Ssempala said.

According to the report, the regulator coerces broadcast stations and stifles freedom of expression through actions such as banning talk shows involving persons critical of government, banning MPs suspended from parliament, ordering suspension of journalists, closure of Media houses and issuing of threats.

“UCC exploits a range of provisions of laws and its mandate to suppress, control and divert the media from fulfilling its cardinal role as a watchdog,” Ssempala said.

The Press Freedom Index Report 2017 is the ninth of its kind produced by the Human Rights Network of Journalists-Uganda. The state of Media freedom In Uganda over the years has registered no pronounced improvements.

Most victims of the violations are TV and Radio journalists as compared to their print media counterparts.