Uganda: Police Tops List of Media Freedom Violators Again

Uganda Police officer.

The police have for the third consecutive year topped the list of violators of press freedom, a report has revealed.

An annual report released by the Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ-U), shows that cases against police officers are still the highest.

"Uganda Police Force (UPF) was again the biggest single violator of media rights, contributing 60 per cent of all violations. The Police beat up and ironically arrested journalists who were protesting against Police brutality," read part of the eleventh, Press Freedom Index (PFI) report.

In the report, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has been named the second biggest violator of media freedom, accounting for 22% in addition to its independence as a regulator being questioned.

The Uganda People's Defence Forces (UDPF) came third at 3.6 per cent. Abuse by mobs against journalists also stood at 3.6 per cent.

Usually, the annual report would be released on World Press Freedom Day which is observed on May 3, but due to the coronavirus lockdown and restriction measures to prevent the spread of the virus, it had was delayed till July 30.

The PFI, 2019 under the theme, "Watch dogs, braving hostility to serve," reflects the call for a free and democratic Uganda. It outlines the state of media freedom in Uganda.

During the official release of the report at Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala on Thursday, the national coordinator for HRNJ-U, Robert Ssempala decried the continued violation of media freedoms and arrest of journalists in the execution of their duties as key sources of information for the meaningful democracy.

Mr Ssempala said the media has suffered in the hands of security operatives especially during the coronavirus lockdown period.

"The situation is tense for the media with a lot of self-censorship. The Minimum Broadcasting Standards remain vague unless it touches on particular powerful individuals. We want to see media owners come out to demand the regulators to act appropriately. We demand that media information becomes a public good," Mr Ssempala said.

"HRNJ-U documented 165 cases in 2019, two cases high. The violations are in changing trends and most of the perpetrators are not brought to book. This contributes to continued impunity. There were also 44 cases of blocking news scenes," he added.

He said like assault, arrests mainly occur during mass rallies or gatherings, adding that, television journalists were the most affected covering about 46 per cent of all cases recorded while print media were at 7 per cent. Violation of abuses on online news media stands at 16 percent.

The report presents degenerating and precarious working environment for journalists in Uganda.

Mr Ssempala said they had earlier this year had a positive response from the Inspector General of Police but he has all of a sudden gone silent on issues of media freedom.

"We do not know whether he has since changed focus (on media freedom). The president had also warned Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) to enhance their capacity to understand the media and their role in a democracy especially now that we are heading towards and elections," he said.

The report recommends human rights based approaches to funders of government agencies.

Journalists have also been urged to organise their engagements to avoid detractors during the execution of their work.

Crimes commuted against journalists often do not come out in the police crime and safety reports.

"Media houses and journalists organisations should follow up on violations committed against fellow journalists so that they do not become mere police statistics," reads part of the recommendation.

The report also recommends for the constitution of an independent tribunal as indicated in the UCC Act, 2013 section 60 as amended, to enable enactment of the Human Rights Enforcement Act, 2019, which indicates that perpetrators of violence and other crimes should be prosecuted individually, not as an agency or institution.

Meanwhile, Dr. Don Rukare, the Chief of Party, Freedom House, urged journalists to practice "responsible journalism".

ASP Cornelius Beyanga, Human Rights Department of the police asked journalists to know how to report cases against police personnel who violate their media freedoms. He said the internal disciplinary and criminal procedures are there to ensure that appropriate actions are taken.

He also urged the public to reach out to the Police Professional Standards Unit (PPSU) in case they meet any challenges with their officers.

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