JANUARY 27, 2010: Press Freedom Deteriorates in Uganda

Media Freedom Under Threat
SOURCE: The Independent
By Joshua Masinde, Kampala 

The Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) is concerned with the depreciating level of press freedom in Uganda. It cites the Broadcasting Council and the Uganda Police Force as the biggest threats to the media and the right to freedom of expression in the country. A statement issued by Robert Ssempala, HRNJ Board Chairperson, shows that 2009 was nightmarish for journalists as it climaxed in the closure of four radio stations in the wake of the September riots in Kampala. According to HRNJ, the year was the worst in the history of the media since its liberalisation in 1993.

Sedition, criminal defamation are some of the draconian laws that were commonly used to criminalise journalistic work. These constituted 14 cases in 2009 according to HRNJ. Five cases were handled using the Sectarianism law, two cases under the clause on forgery and uttering false document, while one case was handled under the treason charge. It says the closure of radios was aggravated by the ban on bimeeza and the establishment of the Media and Offences Department within the Uganda Police Force. It warned that the government has embarked on enacting stringent laws and stinging legislations which include; The Interception of Communications bill (2007). This is expected to coerce reporters to reveal their sources of information. This bill also proposes the extension of pre-detention trial from 48 hours to 90 days, which would ensure critical reporters languish in jail for three months before being arraigned in court for trial.

Meanwhile, the US-based human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has raised serious concerns about the Regulation of Interception of Communications (RIC) Bill. It says the Bill, published on May 25, 2007 is incompatible with international human rights standards, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, Uganda being a party to both treaties. According to the HRNJ Press Freedom Index for 2009, more than 80 journalists were deprived of their rights and freedoms. This report was released in the wake of a recent proposal to pass a legislation that will ensure the government clips the wings of the most critical print media outlets, ahead of the 2011 presidential elections in Uganda.