Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda)
Embargoed until 21st/March/2011
Kampala; As the review for Uganda’s human rights situation is drawing closer under the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) has submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council highlighting the none compliance of Ugandan government towards protecting, upholding and promoting the right to freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information.
HRNJ-Uganda is a membership organization of human rights journalists in Uganda whose primary activity is to defend press freedom, freedom of expression and information. Under the strategic direction, HRNJ-Uganda’s efforts and resources are devoted to; (i) Advocacy and Networking, (ii) Litigation, (iii) Capacity building and Outreach, (iv) Documentation and Research and (v) institutional development.
Uganda which is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council is up for review on its human rights situation later this year in October under the United Nations Universal Periodic Review mechanism (UPRM).
HRNJ-Uganda is aware that Uganda has ratified a number of conventions and treaties that obligate it to protect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and access to information.
These treaties and conventions set standards for all member states to adhere to the principals that facilitate the enjoyment of these human rights and freedoms, namely; Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UHDR-Article 19), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-Article 19), The International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (Article 5(d) (viii), The convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 13) and the Declaration on human rights defenders (Article 6)
It is upon this basis that HRNJ-Uganda is seeking for the intervention of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The report to the UN Human Rights Council exposes among other issues namely; laws that criminalise speech and hinder access to information, deteriorating safety and security of journalists, lack of independence by regulatory bodies, and the shrinking space under which the journalists, political activists, human rights activists and government critics operate.
“Although the right to freely inform the public and to be informed is absolute, it remains limited in Uganda especially on critical issues. The National Resistance Movement (NRM) government claims to observe this freedom, but in practice it does not. We have documented evidence which shows government’s violation of this freedom –esp. to those who criticize public officers” said HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala
Safety and Security of Journalists
The safety and security of journalists in Uganda remains frail with many being murdered, subjected to arbitrary arrests and torture, intimidation and harassment among other untold sufferings at the hands of the authorities. According to HRNJ press index report, there is an increase in cases of violence meted against journalists as indicated by the demographics here below; In 2009, 35 cases of violence were reported and over 50 cases in 2010.
On September 10, 2009, a renowned journalist Mr. Kalundi Sserumaga was kidnapped by security operatives at night after attending a talk show on WBS TV and was tortured at an un-gazzetted center in Kireka. (ii) Arafat Nzito of Simba FM 97.3 on November 3, 2010 was also kidnapped by security personnel, kept incommunicado for eight days at Kololo under the orders of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI). He was released upon filing a habeas- Corpus in court. (iii) Patrick Otim, who worked with a government owned Mega FM, based in Gulu, was kidnapped from his residence in Pader and held incommunicado for six (6) weeks in May, 2009. He was taken to court after filing a habeas corpus, charged with treason and concealment to treason and was committed to the high court for trial –he still languishes in prison without court hearing.
The period under review has seen several journalists murdered with killers still at large. They include;
1) Wilbroad Kasujja, a journalist for Buwama community radio in the Mpigi district. She was raped and killed on her way to work.
2) Paul Kiggundu, a reporter with Masaka-based Top radio, was murdered while on duty.
3) Prime radio, news anchor Dickson Ssentongo was murdered on his way to work.
In 2008, government established the Media Offences Department within the Uganda Police Force to monitor media output on a daily basis. The department interrogates activists, supporters of the opposition political parties, journalists and media managers or owners over releases from their media houses, majority of the victims have kept reporting to police for years with no resolution. These include: Timothy Kalyegira, Daniel Kalinaki, Angello Izama and Henry Ochieng (Daily Monitor).
Limits on Freedom of Expression and laws that criminalise speech;
The Constitutional Court nullified Uganda’s sedition law on August 25, 2010. Nonetheless, several journalists and activists still face sedition charges even though the court found this law in contravention of Article 29 of the Ugandan Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, opinion, and conscience.
Uganda has a big number of laws that criminalise speech ranging from The Penal Code Act, The Anti terrorism Act which sets death as punishment for any journalist who writes about a ‘terrorist group, The Press and Journalists Act, 1995 and the Interception of Communications Act which permits the tapping of all forms or types of communications.
Others include; Under the Electronic Media Act, Cap 104 of 1996, the Broadcasting Council enjoys unprecedented powers of regulating the media content. On several occasions the institution has abused its powers by arbitrarily and excessively closing down media houses, ban public debates and orders the sacking of critical journalists. As witnessed in September 2009, the Broadcasting Council unlawfully closed down five (5) private radio stations namely: Central Broadcasting Service (CBS) 88.8FM and 89.2FM, Radio 2 (Akaboozi FM), a Catholic Church run radio station Radio Sapientia, and Ssuubi FM and the 1958 Secrecy Act which bars public officials from releasing classified information of government. However this contradicts the 2005 Access to Information Act (ATIA) which provides for free and easy access of information from public bodies.
Under the bills;
The Press and Journalists Amendment Bill 2010 which seeks overzealous control of media outlets by the NRM government
The Public Order Management Bill, 2009 challenges the enjoyment of freedom of expression, speech, and assembly which are fundamental freedoms and human rights guaranteed by the 1995 Constitution
Lack of Independence by Regulatory bodies;
Media regulatory bodies are operating under the oversight of the Cabinet Ministers of Security, Information, and ICT. These ministers have assumed and applied excessive powers in controlling these institutions which are supposed to be independent from government. Regulatory bodies too in turn have imposed stringent controls over media houses to the extent of directing recruitments, interfering with the media contents to suit interests of the government. The regulatory bodies have disregarded the enforcement of license regulations on the side of pro-government owned media. A number of incidents denying opposition political supporters access to media platforms have been reported and there’s never been an intervention from the Broadcasting Council like in the case of Bunyoro region in 2010 during presidential and parliamentary campaigns on Radio Kitara, Spice FM, Radio Hoima, Kings Radio and Bunyoro Broadcasting Service, radios and in Nakaseke district community radio, where Dr. Kiiza Besigye paid for airtime but was locked out of the radio building staff and the premises cordoned off by anti-riot police.
HRNJ-Uganda has therefore calling upon the UN human rights council to;
- Ask the government of Uganda to repeal all laws that impede the freedom of the press, expression, opinion and conscience as well as information.
- Push government to implement the decision by the Constitutional Court which overturned the sedition provision and therefore immediately dismiss all sedition charges against journalists and politicians.
- Task the government to make public all reports emerging from investigations of murdered journalists and police brutality and prosecute all those implicated.
For the full report or details please visit our website; www.hrnjuganda.org or contact us on the address below;
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda)
Kivebulaya Road at Mengo – Kampala Opp. St. Marcelino Pre. School
P.O.Box.71314 Clock Tower Kampala
Tel: +256-414-272934 / +256-414-667627