14 January 2013

Uganda: Activists Warn Govt Not to Crminalise Free Expression, Speech

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is dismayed by government's effort to criminalise free expression under the guise of enforcing the law against incitement of violence and control of political and media indiscipline.

In a press conference that was held at Hotel Triangle in Kampala on Monday, Geoffrey Ssebaggala says, "We have noted several actions and statements made by government officials that are intended to hold freedom of expression hostage," adding that, "The state agencies have in the early days of 2013 orchestrated and carried out a systematic clamp down of critical voices."

Ssebaggala who is the National Coordinator for HRN-Uganda notes that having divergent view from that of government and expressing it openly is becoming risky, notwithstanding that government has a constitutional obligation to respect, fulfill and protect the rights of all Ugandans who want to express themselves irrespective of where they come from or which party they belong to. He says, "This duty must be performed fully without discrimination."

He quotes article 20 (2) of the constitution which states that, "The rights and freedoms of the individual and groups enshrined in the chapter IV of the constitution shall be respected, upheld and prompted by all organs and agencies of government and by all persons.

Ssebaggala says, "We have learnt that journalists particularly those hosting political talk-shows and their producers are under pressure from their supervisors not to give platform to Members of Parliament and individuals with views divergent from government. These actors are currently facing threats of closure or revoking of their licenses of their media houses by government. "

He says, "It's becoming criminal to host or provide a platform to those considered 'anti, rebel or indiscipline' politicians with divergent views. Similarly, it has become unlawful to express your dissent view or opinion in any form and to speak about matters of governance."

The human rights activists say on Jan 7, police arrested Arthur Larok, country director for Action Aid and Leonard Okello an independent activist for distributing anti graft newsletters that catalogued cases of corruption since 2000. They further named Samuel Balaba Magala of Heart FM who was on Thursday Jan 10 arrested and interrogated by Mubende police for allegedly hosting the Lwemiyaga County MP, Theodore Ssekikubo.

Magala was interrogated for over two hours by the head of political crimes at Mubende Police station, Juma Geoffrey on orders from CID headquarters in Kibuli.

The director Hits FM in Fort Portal, Nulu Byamukama has decided to suspend two talk shows Orukarato and Ekitangazo because that is what government wants. Byamuka told HRN-Uganda early in January.

Byamukama said, "I was first told to adjust the content of the talk shows and broadcast government development projects instead of airing controversial political issues." "We are not talking politics anymore," said Byamukama.

On February 10, the Buganda Kingdom Central Broadcasting Services (CBS) radio suspended hosting critical MPs Betty Nambooze Bakireke (Mukono North) a member from Democratic Party and Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central) on a popular show 'kkiriza oba ggana' on the orders of the state.

"I received a call just two hours to the programme stopping me from attending the show, they said that the situation was still tense in the country, so they could not host people like me. The pressure is mounting by the day on all free media; I don't know any other media house which would accept to host me," Nambooze is reported to have said.

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