Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Opening remarks by Robert Ssempala during a Media dialogue on ‘Media Freedom in Uganda

Get a copy of the released analysis from the following link:

Media dialogue on ‘Media Freedom in Uganda; Analysis of inequitable legal limitations’
At Hotel Africana –Kampala, on 26th/ March/ 2014
Opening remarks by Robert Ssempala - National Coordinator, HRNJ-Uganda
The Media plays a very fundamental role in preserving a free and open society through dissemination of information that fosters debate and contributes to good governance in Uganda. It is therefore imperative that a favorable regulatory framework is set up by the government to buttress and bolster the growth of the media and to maintain high ethical standards, professionalism and competence of journalists.

A number of existing laws in Uganda do not safeguard growth of the media, but rather seek to control and criminalize the work of journalists. This analysis therefore aims at steering public debate on the undue restrictions on the media and advocating for reforms that will decriminalize speech and facilitate the enjoyment of freedom of expression in Uganda.

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) therefore struggles to realize a legal regime that facilitates the enjoyment of freedom of expression and access to information as a way of fostering development and empowering the citizens to participate in the governance and decision making from an informed point of view. Stringent laws and policies with overly broad interpretations narrow the possibility of enjoying these fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution, regional and international instruments. 

Allow me to invite you all to agree that the media is a very important aspect in information dissemination and that journalists are the principal players; all together they form the fourth Estate. So, full scale efforts must be made to ensure that all of the restrictive laws that suppress free speech and kill democracy are progressively repealed or amended.
For God and My Country

Robert Ssempala
National Coordinator

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

HRNJ-Uganda alert, Guard sentenced to four years for assaulting a journalist

Iganga, 18th March 2014, A security guard, Kemba Azizi, 26 years of age, has been sentenced to four (4) years imprisonment for assaulting a Red Pepper journalist, Solomon Hamala. 

 “Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.  I therefore find the accused guilty of assault contrary to Section 236 of the Penal Code Act and since he has been remorseful, he is sentenced to four years in jail,”  Iganga Grade One Magistrate, Sylvia Nvanungi said in her judgment

Prosecution alleged that on January 13, 2014, Kemba assaulted Hamala as he covered women traders in Iganga protesting the proposed eviction from the taxi park by Iganga Municipal Council.

Prosecution further alleged that the accused together with another security guard, Isiko Yakubu, now on the run, hit  Hamala on the head  using a baton and bicycle padlock before dragging him on the tarmac for over twenty meters.

“We are very happy about this judgment, it will be a lesson to the security personnel and the general public who continuously use their powers wrongly and cause harm to innocent people, especially journalists. We appeal to police to make sure that Isiko is arrest and face justice as well.” said the HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala.

For More Information Contact;
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda)

Plot 18, Block 12 Stensera Road Kayanja Triangle Zone
P.O.BOX. 71314 Clock Tower Kampala. Tel:
+256-414-272934 / +256-414-667627
E-mail: / / Website:; BLOG:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Press statement: For immediate release

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is extremely concerned with the superfluous and uncalled for politicization and criminalization of the media by ‘labeling’ journalists ‘pro-Mbabazi’ to mean that they are inclined and supporters of the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. This unjustified labeling of journalists has sent shock waves, caused panic and stress among media practitioners and many are acting under pressure from their employers and audiences to prove that they are not compromised.

Journalists are supposed to be impartial and objective in the course of their work. So, this labeling amounts to persecution and poses a threat to the lives and job security of the named journalists. It has been made difficult to report on the NRM political party matters without fear or favor or without being labeled pro or anti Mbabazi. 

HRNJ-Uganda has talked to a number of journalists on the said list; most of them have vehemently denied being inclined to any political camp. Some are so surprised that their names could make such a list which has horrible political implications to their career. Some journalists believe that their names were copied and pasted from sign-in books in Parliament or Media Centre, disturbing however is how some editors who never go to the field had their names on the said list. This behavior from State operatives who do the labeling is intended to deny the public the right information pertaining to issues within the ruling NRM party. 

You will recall that early this month, an alleged list of 150 journalists reportedly compiled by State operatives was said to have been presented to State House, accusing the journalists of being biased in their coverage in favor of Mr. Mbabazi. This has come at a critical time of heightened political tension within the ruling NRM where the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is accused of nurturing ambitions to contest in the 2016 presidential elections and undermining his boss the President.

HRNJ-Uganda believes that the ongoing debates within the NRM as to who should contest for presidency is a matter of public interest as well as national importance which journalists must cover accurately and offer all views an equal opportunity with a view of helping  the citizens make informed decisions in their way of judgment. However this should not be construed to mean that when one side is offered space it amounts to being pro the views of that side. 

Persecution of journalists because of their work has a huge chilling effect on the media industry; it is intended to stifle public debate on the affairs of the party that was entrusted with the responsibility of managing Uganda’s public affairs. This pattern of events is further contributing to the already worsening space for the media that is getting narrower and narrower everyday especially when it comes to reporting about governance issues.
HRNJ-Uganda would therefore recommend the following;
  1. We call upon the media managers/ proprietors and journalists to stand firm and resist the political temptations to compromise their quality of work and consequently the industry
  2. Call upon the State agencies and NRM party functionaries to desist from politicizing, criminalization and persecution of journalists because of their professional work
  3. The State House and the relevant authorities should come out and explain the said list and what it is intended for
  4. The media should be allowed to operate freely without this undue pressure which is detrimental to the notion of holding leaders accountable.
  5. The state is reminded that the media plays a fundamental role in championing good governance and development and therefore it must restrain from curtailing its freedoms at all times
  6. The State must uphold its obligations to protect promote and uphold fundamental human rights including those of journalists.
    get a soft copy-
In solidarity, we stand to defend the media
National Coordinator
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda  

HRNJ-Uganda alert, police hunts for attacker of the deceased journalist.

Kampala, 14th/March/2014; Police in Kampala are hunting for a suspect in the death of a Vision Group photo journalist, Mubiru Royce Kakebe, who reportedly died from a tetanus attack due to injuries occasion to him by one Percy Nanyondo in January this year as he carried on with his work.
Sources in police told HRNJ-Uganda that Kakebe reported an assault case at a police post in Kampala on January 19th against Percy, and on February 15, she was arrested, but later released on February 17th after Kakebe had reportedly reached a mutual agreement with her.
“Yes we are looking for her in connection to this death, but I will give details on the matter later,” the Kampala Metropolitan Police Spokesperson, Ibin Ssenkumbi told HRNJ-Uganda.
Percy reportedly stubbed Kakebe with a broken bottle after he declined delete a photo he had taken of a boat cruise on Lake Victoria in which she suspected to be involved, but Kakebe explained that he was a Vision Group journalist who had only taken a random picture of the cruise without necessarily targeting a particular individual.
Moments later, Percy reached for a bottle which she reportedly first broke and used to stub Kakebe on his hand much as she had aimed at the head, occasioning him deep cuts. Since January 2014 when the incident happened, the wound had not yet healed, but Kakebe did not see any eminent danger until when he blacked out on 07th March while at work as he prepared to go to the field for his assignments. He was rushed to Mulago hospital from where he was put on life support machines in the intensive care unit until Wednesday 12th, March when he was pronounced dead.

Kakebe was working with the Vision Group’s New Vision, The Kampala Sun tabloid and Bukedde. He is survived by a widow and two daughters. He was buried Friday 14th, March at his ancestral home in Wakiso District.
HRNJ-Uganda is saddened by the death of Royce in such a manner. We call on the police to investigate further into the cause of his death, and ensure that whoever was involved is brought to book. We send our sincere condolences to the family and the media fraternity.
For More Information Contact;
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda)

Plot 18, Block 12 Stensera Road Kayanja Triangle Zone
P.O.BOX. 71314 Clock Tower Kampala. Tel:
+256-414-272934 / +256-414-667627
E-mail: / / Website:; BLOG:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Press statement: For immediate release

Tuesday, 04th March, 2014
Press statement: For immediate release

Space for journalists to operate freely in Uganda has continued to narrow down according to the Press Freedom Index Report, 2013, an annual assessment of media rights violations and attacks against journalists released by Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda).

“The increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association are a matter of serious concern that requires collective efforts and responsibilities to abate. Journalists are beaten by Police that is supposed to protect them, media houses censure information for fear of being closed by the state machinery, peaceful assemblies and demonstrations are stopped hence narrowing the space and limiting the platforms for free exchange of opinions and ideas,” said Robert Ssempala, the National Coordinator of HRNJ-Uganda.  

The Report titled: ‘Narrowing Space: Media Under Siege’ highlights the state of media freedom in Uganda as evidenced by practical cases investigated and documented by HRNJ-Uganda. Police remains the biggest violator of media freedoms in the country. Of the 124 violations documented in 2013, 85 were by the Police: of these, 51 were physical in nature. In 2012, however, 46 cases of violations were committed by the Police of the 86 recorded in that year; an indication of a deteriorating relationship between the Police and journalists.

With no known prosecutions implemented against state agents of Uganda Police Force that have been since implicated in perpetrating abuses against journalists, impunity continued to reign in 2013. Despite reported cases at the Professional Standards Unit (PSU), there has been no report of progress from the police in as far as investigations and bringing the suspects to justice is concerned. This is in a way perceived as a silent sanction of the unprofessional conduct of the implicated officers.   
The unabated use of national security to clamp down on media rights in Uganda-buttressed by Article 43 of the Constitution continued in 2013 as evidenced by the closure of The Monitor Publications and the Red Pepper for ten (10) days.
The ‘replacement’ of law with negotiated settlement is a precarious precedent in the quest for media freedom in Uganda. The negotiated re-opening of Daily Monitor and compelling it to sign ‘undertakings’ defined outside the law was an avenue for  government sneak in its own interests into the laws governing media freedom.

The excess of laws that seek to control rather than regulate freedom of expression increased in 2013.  These laws such as the Uganda Communications Act 2013, and the Public Order Management Act 2013 contravene constitutional provisions and international standards. These laws have been used to intimidate the media from reporting freely on a number of issues.

“A country where free flow of information is restricted and people are intimidated for speaking out their minds and where  journalists are blocked and stopped from disseminating information, is retrogressive” said Ssempala.

Remarks by By Margaret Sekaggya Executive Director Human Rights Centre Uganda at Launch of the HRNJ-U Press Freedom Index Report 2013.

Margaret Sekaggya
Executive Director
Human Rights Centre Uganda

Plot 65 Luthuli Avenue P.O Box, 25638, Kampala Uganda,,, Tel :0414 266186
Journalists and the media continue to remain one of the most targeted groups of defenders all over the globe, and not just in Uganda. This report however elaborates in detail on the kinds of violations that journalists in Uganda faced in 2013, the persons responsible for these violations, the areas of specific target,and the lacuna's that exist within the Laws and operations of Uganda as a whole that have made journalists even more vulnerable  to threats that continue to evolve.
The report highlights a worrying trend by revealing the biggest perpetrator as police and further still that the violations by police have increased in number from 2012.It also includes other state actors such as the judiciary, Resident District Commissioners who are meant to safeguard the rights of all people including those of journalists who are the very same people that violate these rights. Committing the violations against journalists is not the only renunciation of their duty to protect the media freedoms, the failure to punish those that do so is equally as dire. The report notes that even state actors including the general public, media house owners and private companies do violate the rights of journalists.
It is important for Police and to clear the image that continues to be ruined by a few errant policemen, and this is where the internal mechanism of the Proffessional Standard Unit must actually perform its role, by imposing very serious sanctions on these officers that man handle journalists, destroy their property and commit all sorts of assault against them. The Courts must also be able to adjudicate on matters concerning violations against journalists and ensure that the non state actors and other perpetrators are held responsible.
The role of Parliament in ensuring press freedoms is key. The law can either be used to legitimize press freedoms or to curtail them. The report highlights some Legislation that has negatively affected media freedoms and the rights of journalists including the Public Order Management Act 2013,Uganda Communications Act 2006, among many that have given violators of these rights the lee way to do so, preventing  journalists from accessing news, or discussing important issues.
This has led to repercussions including self censorship inadvertently violating the public’s rights to access information.
OUganda should not forget its legal obligations under the international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights in Article 19, but also Article 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. This report highlights the link between eroded respects of the rule of law, which makes it hard to hold perpetrators accountable.
The most recent closure of the Monitor, and red pepper news papers that has been termed the media siege shows a very limited understanding of the positive role that the media has in the development of society and the country at large. This report actually highlights this as one of the possible attributes to the increase in press violations.
In my reading of this report I have noted some important recommendations that will contribute to the realization of media freedoms.
·         It is important that the State to understand and appreciate the role of the media as a tool for development, democracy and social transformation instead of an enemy.
·         Violators of the rights of the journalists must be punished in order to deter any violations.
·         Parliament should refrain from enacting any laws that curtail media freedoms.
·         Government should respect its international human rights obligations and the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda that caters for the freedom of expression. Any derogation to the rights of journalists and the media to express themselves must be under law.
The State as the main duty bearer has a major role in safe guarding the rights of the media, however in order human rights defenders should also play a major role in sensitizing the authorities, policy makers and the general public on human rights issues including on the role and importance of the media in a democratic state. It is important that this is understood and appreciated by all Stakeholders as legitimate and valuable.

I hereby launch this report and urge all stakeholders to take heed of their roles regarding the promotion of media freedoms.