Uganda's Minister of Information Kabakumba Masiko issues statement saying government unsatisfied with ruling...
Uganda’s Constitutional Court has scrapped the provision on sedition from the Penal Code in a move that lawyers and media groups have described as a milestone in the enforcement of freedom of expression and press freedom.
Five Justices of the Constitutional Court unanimously declared the law unconstitutional in a judgement read by court registrar Ruhinda Ntengye on Wednesday.
The decision followed a joint petition filed by Andrew Mwenda, the Managing Editor of the Independent, and the East African Media Institute—Uganda Chapter (EAMI). Mwenda and the media group had challenged the Penal Code provisions on sedition and promotion of sectarianism on grounds that they contravened the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.
Sedition is where a person utters or publishes statements “aimed at bringing hatred, contempt or disaffection” against the President, the Government or the Judiciary. The punishment was imprisonment for up to seven years.
The five Constitutional Court judges unanimously agreed that “The sections on sedition are inconsistent with the Constitution," Ntengye said. “They are therefore null and void."
James Nangwala, who represented Mwenda, said the decision “is a milestone in so far as enforcing fundamental rights to freedom of expression and of the press and other media is concerned”.
He added that it was a “licence for people to criticise, comment and participate in managing their affairs”, which previously “has been academic”.
Kenneth Kakuru, who represented EAMI, said “You can now say anything without fear. The victory is not for journalists alone but for everybody”. He said the law on sedition had narrowed constitutional rights journalists and the public at large.
The decision nullifies a number of pending criminal cases against various journalists who are facing charges of sedition.
The court case stemmed from a 2005 petition filed by Andrew Mwenda, then political editor of the Monitor and host of the Andrew Mwenda Live talk show on Kfm, after he was charged with sedition following his statements on the radio show about Uganda’s culpability in the death of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement leader John Garang.
Mwenda and EAMI had also petitioned the court against the offence of promoting sectarianism but the judges upheld these provisions. Nangwala said they would appeal this decision.
The lawyer said he had been particularly encouraged by the Court’s pronouncement that “there is nothing called young democracy; you are either a democracy or not”. Many Uganda leaders, as others elsewhere in Africa, have over the years justified laws that criminalise publication of certain information on grounds that theirs were still new nations and young democracies that are concerned more about the promotion of national unity and development.
Haruna Kanaabi, the Executive Secretary of the Independent Media Council of Uganda welcomed the court decision. “It is a big victory for freedom of expression in Uganda,” he said. “More space has been created for people who want to express their views especially on political matters without fear of being arrested.”
Kanaabi added, “The media will no longer give people a platform cautiously. They can use the platform to express matters that are important without fear.”
Daniel Kalinaki, the Managing Editor of the Daily Monitor, who is currently facing charges related to publication of confidential government documents, said “The Constitutional Court ruling which has struck down the colonial-era law on sedition is a triumph for progressive views over the backward, unworthy and primitive forces that seek to hold us back and imprison our freedom to hold those in power accountable for their actions.”
Timothy Kalyegira of the online publication, Uganda Record, was the latest victim of the law on sedition. He was charged early this month after he questioned government’s role in the July 7/11 Kampala bombings that killed at least 80 people and injured many others.
Other journalists facing the sedition charges include Charles Bichachi and John Njoroge formerly with the Independent Magazine, Radio One and TV Talk Show host Kalundi Robert Sserumaga, Siraje Lubwama formerly with the Daily Monitor, Musa Kigongo, presenter with the now closed CBS FM. Democratic Party Member of Parliament Betty Nambooze was also facing sedition charges.
As journalists were celebrating the court decision yesterday, Kanaabi warned that the fight was not yet over. “The fight for a free and independent media is still on,” he said. “There are still a number of hurdles for example the sectarianism section which has been upheld, the media offences section of the Police Act, the Press and Journalist Act and the Electronic Media Act, which have been used arbitrarily by the government to the extent of shutting down radio stations. We need to work harder to achieve total freedom.”
Journalists facing charges of promoting sectarianism include Andrew Mwenda, James Tumusiime and Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda of The Observer and Bernard Tabaire, a Daily Monitor columnist and General Secretary of ACME.
State Attorney Patricia Mutesi vowed to appeal the court’s decision to quash the law on sedition.
But lawyer Nangwala noted that he was confident that Supreme Court would uphold the Constitutional Court’s decision given that the lower court had based on the precedent set by the country’s highest court on the question of laws that criminalise publication offences.
In 2004 the Supreme Court struck down the law against the publication of false news following a petition filed by Charles Onyango-Obbo and Mwenda, both of the Monitor at the time. They were represented by Nangwala.
More articles on previous sedition cases
There were celebrations at Bulange, the seat of the Buganda Kingdom, when CBS was re-opened late last month. The station, in which the kingdom is the majority shareholder, operates from the same place.
I have since heard many Mengo loyalists and others shouting themselves hoarse about the latest victory against the central government. I would take a more cautious approach. Yes, CBS is back on air. And yes, the popular radio station has not met the tough conditions that the government set earlier this year. But this is not a victory for media freedom. At best it is a victory for business and politics.
Here is why.
CBS was closed in September 2009 year and its licence revoked for allegedly breaching the minimum broadcasting standards enshrined in the Electronic Media Act. The said standards require broadcasters to ensure that any programme broadcast “is not contrary to public morality; does not promote the culture of violence or ethnic prejudice among the public....; in case of a news broadcast, is free from distortion of facts; is not likely to create public insecurity or violence; and is in compliance with the existing law.”
The station was accused of inciting violence and ethnic hatred during the riots that followed a standoff between the Buganda Kingdom establishment and the central government over the king’s visit to Kayunga. Nearly 30 people died in the riots.
The specifics of the charges were never laid out, and CBS was not given an opportunity to defend itself.
Although the Broadcasting Council, the statutory regulator, took responsibility for the decision to close CBS, it turned out, not surprisingly, that this was a government decision. Over the months that followed, negotiations over reopening CBS were not with the Council, but with the President and his Cabinet, which set some tough conditions, including relocating the station from Mengo, a public apology, and firing some hostile presenters. Mengo and CBS rejected the conditions and the station remained off air for more than a year.
Then at the end of October, President Museveni directed that CBS be re-opened because he had received numerous calls from listeners, some of whom were NRM supporters, pleading that the station should be given another chance. In the past, the president had threatened CBS because its presenters allegedly abused him and maligned his ruling NRM.
Now, according to international instruments and protocols, to which Uganda is a party, media regulators are supposed to be independent of governments and other partisan interests. Uganda’s Broadcasting Council is clearly not independent of the government.
But the Chairman of the council, Mr. Godfrey Mutabazi, has made some interesting comments about the re-opening of CBS, which the local media have unfortunately failed to interrogate.
According to Saturday Monitor of October 30, he said, “The radio was re-opened on political grounds, but its re-opening is not legally binding.” Mutabazi reportedly added that a meeting between CBS management and his council would convene soon to agree on the license terms and conditions in a free and fair process.
For now, then it may well be that Mengo got itself some more hot air or byoya bya nswa, as the Baganda would say.
It appears to me that nothing in the current arrangement would stop Mr Museveni and his handlers from banning CBS after the elections next year.
And this is why I don’t see the re-opening of CBS as a victory for media freedom. In fact, I see it as another sad commentary on the death of freedom of expression in Uganda.
Already we are hearing whispers that under some backroom deal with the central government, the management of CBS agreed that certain presenters would not be back on air. Significantly, they also reportedly agreed to cut sound bites out of news. That way, they would be able to manage what is said about Museveni and his government better.
Elsewhere, we have noted the increasing self-censorship in newsrooms following the closure of CBS and three other radio stations in September 2009.
All this is largely because media owners are not willing to stand up to Museveni. Some radio station owners told an international joint mission on freedom of expression in Uganda in September that this attitude is informed by business considerations. Standing up to Museveni could mean your station could be taken off air for a year, as happened to CBS.
As long as media owners continue viewing their radio stations and newspapers purely as business enterprises, without any serious consideration for their public service role, freedom of expression and press freedom will continue being sacrificed at the altar of profit.
Some years ago, a government minister informed us that a newspaper I edited had to apologise to the president for a “false” story we had published or we risked being closed. I told the board I would not be party to any apology as long as our reporter stood by his story. I knew the source, and I trusted the reporter more than the president. One board member accused me of harbouring the idealism of American college professors. I told him even in the United States, the government would have won the battle against press freedom had media owners such as the Sulzberger family (New York Times) and Catherine Graham (Washington Post) not stood up to power back in early 1970s. He saw my point. No apology was made. And the newspaper was not closed.
Their station having been closed for more than a year, I don’t know why CBS management could not stretch this to a more permanent conclusion. It would have been good to take the fight to the courts and all the way to the Supreme Court so that it could pronounce itself on the illegalities that the government enforces in the name of protecting the public interest. Of course this would have been an expensive venture. But who said freedom was cheap?
Rwanda’s laws on genocide ideology and divisionism are hampering freedom of speech and compromising journalists’ roles of informing the public because they are vague, a new report by Amnesty International says.
The laws on “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism”, more commonly known as “divisionism”, were put in place after the 1994 genocide incited by hate speech and radio, to encourage unity and restrict speech that could promote hatred. More than 800,000 people died in the genocide.
The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by President Paul Kagame has been in power since it halted the genocide and has since tightly controlled political space, civil society and the media.
The Human rights watchdog notes that while prohibiting hate speech is a legitimate aim, the government of Rwanda is using the laws to violate human rights especially freedom of speech.
“The law calls for punishment of: 'Any person who disseminates genocide ideology in public through documents, speeches, pictures, and media or any other means,' the report says. "This provision leaves unclear whether journalists could be prosecuted for reporting on cases of alleged 'genocide ideology'. This lack of clarity may infringe journalists’ rights to freedom of expression and compromise their professional duty to inform the public.”
Both national and international media critical of the Rwanda government have been affected by the laws according to the report titled Safer to Stay Silent: The Chilling Effect of Rwanda's Laws on 'Genocide Ideology' and 'Sectarianism'
Journalists, the report says, have been rebuked in media outlets close to the government for drawing attention to deficiencies in the above laws.
In the run up to the August 9 presidential elections, the government limited criticism in the country by opposition politicians and journalists. Two opposition candidates were arrested and charged, among other things, with "genocide ideology". A newspaper editor was also arrested on the same charge.
In July, an editor of the Kinyarwanda-language weekly Umurabyo was arrested over allegations that the paper had published stories "inciting the public to disobey," "articles related to division and ethnicity," and "rumors that can cause disturbance in the country,"
In 2009, the report adds, “A Media Law placed undue restrictions on press freedom, and journalists critical of the government remain barred from government press conferences. Newspapers were shut down by the Rwandan High Media Council (HMC), a body closely linked to the ruling party. Restrictions on freedom of expression and association, compounded by ambiguous “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” laws, as well as those that criminalize “insulting the President”, have a cumulative effect in silencing dissent in Rwandan society,” reads the report.
On 25 April 2009, the BBC Kinyarwanda service was suspended by the Rwandan government after it relayed a programme discussing forgiveness after the 1994 genocide. The show also aired an interview with Faustin Twagiramungu, a former presidential candidate, opposing attempts to have all Hutus apologise for the genocide as not all had participated in it.
The government argued that the broadcast incited “divisionism” and constituted genocide denial.
Earlier in 2006, the BBC and Voice of America (VOA) were accused of disseminating “genocide ideology”.
The human rights watchdog is calling upon the Rwanda government to make a clear public commitment to freedom of expression and publicly agree to review past convictions under “genocide ideology”, “divisionism” or related laws.
RWANDA ELECTION: No critical domestic press
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Africa’s top news sites named
With a few notable exceptions, it appears that Uganda has witnessed a more dramatic erosion of press freedom, including more attacks on journalists and the media, since the country returned to multi-party politics in 2006.
Under the one-party state (1986-2005), which President Yoweri Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement called the Movement system or no-party democracy, press freedom remained precarious, alright, but journalists and the media appeared to enjoy more freedom than today.
In fact, back then many an international visitor described Uganda’s media as the most vibrant and freest in the region.
That the condition of media freedom in Uganda has progressively deteriorated since the return of multi-party politics is not to suggest that the country should not have returned to the multi-party system of government. It's merely to point out what appears to be a disturbing relationship between multi-party politics as it is practised in Uganda and the condition of the media. And of course it confirms that multi-party politics is not necessarily multi-party democracy.
The relative press freedom in Uganda during the no-party Movement era was always intriguing given that the NRM government had not allowed wider civil liberties and political rights, such as freedom of association for political parties. Some commentators, such as my friend Charles Onyango-Obbo, argued back then that having come to power on a popular platform, the NRM took a relatively more relaxed approach to the news media in order to carve out the image of a more open and progressive government than its predecessors.
It was more than that. The NRM government seems to have used a relatively free press as a safety valve for the suppression of other civil liberties and political rights. With freedom of expression through political party platforms stifled, the media remained the major channel through which the opposition, civil society, and dissatisfied citizens could expend their political energies. In other words, press freedom became a substitute for other rights of expression and association.
In fact, Museveni’s government often cited the fact that opposition politicians appeared on news and public affairs programming on both private and public radio to justify its suppression of the political rights of association and others freedoms associated with political competition. In a newspaper article in 2003, for instance, President Museveni justified the ban on political party activity partly under the pretext that the opposition had been allowed to “propagate whatever ideas they have through radios and TV”. As far as he was concerned, the question of democracy in Uganda had been resolved.
Moreover, under the no-party Movement system, Parliament and the Executive did not always speak with one voice. A number of progressive Members of Parliament and ministers opposed their more radical colleagues every time the government attempted to rein in the media with more draconian measures.
Under the multi-party arrangement, this kind of internal dissent has all but disappeared. The ruling NRM’s Caucus generally speaks with one voice in Parliament.
The Museveni government has put its numbers to use in Parliament and ensured that it has its way ALL the time. The opposition has not been able to fight back successfully because it doesn't have the numbers. But it can still cause the government great discomfort by exposing corruption and other forms of malfeasance.
The media have remained the main institution through which the excesses of the government are exposed. The ruling NRM can use its numbers in Parliament and introduce draconian legislation or kill motions that call for more accountability and transparency in governance, but this won't stop the media from exposing the rot.
In the end, the stories and images in the media contradict Museveni's and his government's claim that Uganda is a democracy where the will of the people is respected.
Critical independent media are therefore seen as a threat to Museveni's comfortable hold on power.
As Prof. Nelson Kasfir argued nearly a decade ago, “In those situations where their personal control of governmental institutions has not been challenged, they (NRM) have supported more liberal and democratic initiatives than any previous Ugandan government or most African governments. On the other hand, where they faced serious risks, they have mostly chosen to protect their own interests rather than to adopt more open democratic solutions.”
Today, Museveni and his NRM may have defeated the opposition at the polls, but all is not well. The recent wave of protests has shaken the government, which has described them as an opposition ploy to take power through unconstitutional means.
The media have played a big role in sustaining the protests not only through publicity but also in exposing police brutality in the crackdown on the protestors. That is why the media are targeted as enemies that are being used by the opposition and others to overthrow the government.
They have been labelled unpatriotic, enemies of Uganda's economic recovery, and so on.
While some media houses have tried to stand up to the pressure, others have caved in and are now exercising high levels of self-censorship because they don't want to get into trouble with the government. They fear that they could be closed down and their licences could be suspended or revoked by a regulator that is widely seen as not acting independently from the government as international best practices require.
The media owners could challenge the government's actions in the courts, but many are business people who can't risk losing money in court battles that could last years.
But one hopes that some media houses will risk it all and continue speaking the truth to power.
About the Author:
Dr. Peter Mwesige is Executive Director of the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME). He has chaired the department of journalism and communication at Makerere University and is a former Executive Editor of the Monitor in Kampala.
Justice Joseph N. Mulenga, who died on Wednesday at the age of 73, enriched Ugandan jurisprudence on freedom of speech and expression.
His 2004 Supreme Court lead judgement in the 2002 constitutional appeal filed by journalists Charles Onyango-Obbo and Andrew Mwenda against the Penal Code provision outlawing the “publication of false news” remains the standard reference point in freedom of expression cases in Uganda.
Indeed, in August 2010, the Constitutional Court averred that the Onyango-Obbo and Mwenda Supreme Court case “is an encyclopedia to the evaluation of cases on rights of speech and expression, media and other press and acceptable Constitutional limitations here and other democratic societies”.
It is worth reminding ourselves about the key details of that case. In October 1997, Onyango-Obbo (then Editor of The Monitor) and Mwenda, a reporter, were jointly charged in the magistrates’ court with the criminal offence of “publication of false news”.
In September 1997 Sunday Monitor had published a story “Kabila paid Uganda in Gold, says report,” based on an article in the London-based Indian Ocean Newsletter.
The Monitor story said, “President Laurent Kabila of the newly named Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) has given a large consignment of gold to the Government of Uganda as payment for ‘services rendered’ by the latter during the struggle against the former military dictator, the late Mobutu Sese Seko.”
The government maintained that this was false news and the journalists were charged under Section 50 of the Penal Code, which provided that “Any person who publishes any false statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace is guilty of a misdemeanour.”
The two journalists challenged their prosecution in the Constitutional Court, which, after the Magistrates Court had found them innocent, determined that the Director of Public Prosecution’s case against the journalists was constitutional.
Not satisfied, the journalists filed a constitutional appeal in the Supreme Court.
He recognised that the journalists were not arguing that freedom of expression was absolute. Indeed, they had acknowledged that the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression was subject to Article 43 of the Constitution, which provides for circumstances under which human rights and freedoms can be limited.
The gist of the case was that the provision prohibiting publication of false news was inconsistent with the Constitution to the extent that the limitation it imposed on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression was beyond what was permitted under Article 43 of the Constitution.
Article 43 provides that (1) “In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter (the Bill of Rights) no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.”
(2) Public interest under this article shall not permit -
a) political persecution;
b) detention without trial;
c) any limitation of the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed by this Chapter beyond what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, or what is provided in this Constitution."
Limitations on freedom of expression
To this day, many defenders of State-orchestrated attacks on freedom of expression, including the president, argue that this right is not absolute. For starters, no freedom of expression defender has argued that the right is absolute. Secondly, those who support laws that unduly derogate constitutional rights often conveniently ignore the standard set by clause 2 of Article 143 of our Constitution.
Mulenga argued that precisely because the framers of the Constitution were concerned about “a probable danger of misuse or abuse of the provision” on limitation of human rights “under the guise of defence of public interest”, they enacted clause 2.
That clause, among others, introduced “a yardstick by which to gauge any limitation imposed on the rights in defence of public interest. The yardstick is that the limitation must be acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.”
Mulenga called this "a limitation upon the limitation".
He said, “The limitation on the enjoyment of a protected right in defence of public interest is in turn limited to the measure of that yardstick. In other words, such limitation, however otherwise rationalised, is not valid unless its restriction on a protected right is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.”
The question, then, was whether the limitation that the provision against publication of false news imposed on the constitutional right to freedom of expression was “acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society”.
First of all Justice Mulenga rejected the relativist argument that what is “acceptable and justifiable” varies from one democratic society to another. That is the line that the Attorney General had taken.
“That approach would distort the standard set out by the Constitution,” he said. “The provision in clause (2) (c) clearly presupposes the existence of universal democratic values and principles, to which every democratic society adheres. It also underscores the fact that by her Constitution, Uganda is a democratic state committed to adhere to those values and principles, and therefore, to that set standard. While there may be variations in application, the democratic values and principles remain the same. Legislation in Uganda that seeks to limit the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression is not valid under the Constitution, unless it is in accord with the universal democratic values and principles that every free and democratic society adheres to.”
Citing others Mulenga enunciated the criteria for limitations imposed on guaranteed rights:
• the legislative objective which the limitation is designed to promote must be sufficiently important to warrant overriding a fundamental right;
• the measures designed to meet the objective must be rationally connected to it and not arbitrary, unfair or based on irrational considerations;
• the means used to impair the right of freedom must be no more than necessary to accomplish the objective.
Mulenga agreed that Uganda’s Penal Code Provision on the publication of false news left “unfettered discretion” which “opens the way for those in power to perceive criticism and all expressions that put them in bad light, to be likely to cause mischief to the public”.
Protection of False statements
Another major question that Mulenga attempted to resolve was on the question of whether constitutional protection of free speech can be extended to false statements or expressions. He pointed out that “freedom of expression extends to holding, receiving and imparting all forms of opinions, ideas and information. It is not confined to categories, such as correct opinions, sound ideas or truthful information.”
He added: “Subject to the limitation under Article 43, a person’s expression or statement is not precluded from the constitutional protection simply because it is thought by another or others to be false, erroneous, controversial or unpleasant. Everyone is free to express his or her views.”
Mulenga argued that a democratic society respects and promotes the right to freedom of expression “because it derives benefit from the exercise of that freedom by its citizens”. He said, “In order to maintain that benefit, a democratic society chooses to tolerate the exercise of the freedom even in respect of ‘demonstrably untrue and alarming statements’, rather than to suppress it.”
Mulenga, however, stressed that “applying the constitutional protection to false expressions is not to 'uphold falsity'…. The purpose is to avoid the greater danger of 'smothering alternative views' of fact or opinion.”
Justice Mulenga maintained to the very end that several media related laws in Uganda would not survive a constitutional challenge.
He argued after he had retired from the judiciary that the tests and yardsticks applied in the constitutional appeal against the Penal Code provision on publication of false news would equally apply to several laws that limit the right to freedom of expression.
Unfortunately, the Executive has continued proposing legislation or allowed the statute books to remain with provisions that violate the very constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression that Justice Mulenga so ably articulated.
For instance, the Uganda Communications Regulatory Bill 2012, which was tabled in parliament earlier this year, proposes licensing conditions for broadcasting stations such as “proof of existence of adequate technical facilities” and the “social, cultural and economic values” of the media house.
• Are these reasonable limitations?
• Should the right to expression through broadcasting be the preserve of those who have access to modern technical facilities or those with the right social, cultural, and economic values?
• Who determines these values?
• Is the objective these measures are designed to promote “sufficiently important to warrant overriding (the) fundamental right” to impart information through broadcasting?
The proposed Press and Journalist Amendment Bill, 2010 provides that the statutory regulator, the Media Council, may revoke a license of a newspaper on grounds of “publishing material that is prejudicial to national security, stability and unity”; “publishing any matter that is injurious to Uganda’s relations with her neighbours or friendly countries;”and “publishing material that amounts to economic sabotage”.
Again, there are several questions we could ask based on Mulenga’s judgement:
• What exactly constitutes prejudice to national security, stability and unity? Who defines this?
• What about Uganda’s relations with neighbours? What constitutes injury to these relations? Who defines it?
• And what would constitute material that amounts to economic sabotage? Who would define it?
• What if prejudice to national security, stability and unity is used as a guise to smother critical views?
• Similarly, what if injury to Uganda’s relations with her neighbours or so-called economic sabotage is used as an excuse to stifle legitimate criticism of foreign affairs or economic policy?
• Isn’t such broad and vague language open to subjective interpretation, and abuse?
• Are such broad limitations consistent with the spirit of Article 43 of our Constitution?
• Are these limitations acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society?
Similar questions can be asked about the Public order Management Bill, 2009, which appears to prohibit rather than regulate public meetings.
A week before the Constitution was enacted on September 22 1995, I asked Mulenga who was one of its framers, whether it had been worth the time and money. He said it was worth it. He was particularly proud of the Bill of Rights.
Unfortunately, by the time of his death there were increasing affronts on the very rights and civil liberties enshrined in that chapter of the Constitution.
But if there is one legacy Mulenga has left, it is giving our courts and human rights defenders a robust framework within which to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression and other human rights.
Dr. Mwesige is co-founder and executive director of the African Centre for Media Excellence. He is a former head of the Department of Mass Communication at Makerere University, where he was also a senior lecturer, and a former executive editor of the Monitor.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s proposal to amend the Constitution to deny bail to individuals involved in demonstrations and the ambiguous proposed crime of economic sabotage has attracted condemnation from both critics and loyalists.
Scholars, lawyers, politicians and the media say the proposal would curtail freedom of expression and other fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Museveni announced the move to amend the Constitution and the Penal Code in the wake of the wake of the walk to work protests called by the opposition to rally the population over the government’s failure to address rising food and fuel prices. He was disturbed that many of the people he called “rioters”, including the opposition leaders leading the protests, were granted bail by the courts following their arrests.
Museveni also accused local and international media houses of sabotage and said they should be treated like criminals.
“The media houses both local and international such as Al-jazeera, BBC, NTV, The Daily Monitor, etc., that cheer on these irresponsible people are enemies of Uganda’s recovery and they will have to be treated as such,” he said.
But most analysts who have spoken out have condemned the President’s designs.
The President of the Uganda Law Society, Mr. James Sebugenyi in an opinion published in the New Vision newspaper said, “The proposal will create legislation directed to particular citizens with a deliberate aim to encroach on their rights which is contrary to the cardinal principle of rule of law.”
Article 23(6) of the Ugandan Constitution provides "Anyone arrested is entitled to apply to the court to be released on bail and the court may grant that person bail on such conditions as the court considers reasonable."
The spokesperson of the ruling National Resistance Movement, Mr Ofwono Opondo, also parted ways with his boss and said the proposed constitutional amendment and legislation would be in bad faith and would go against the party’s own fundamental principles as a “revolutionary and liberation organisation”.
“It should be rejected, and the new parliament must rise to stop manoeuvres that could create repression,” Mr Opondo wrote in the Sunday Vision.
He added, “Museveni's proposal would in effect curtail freedoms, and individual liberties, bridle and constrain judicial independence and the net result could be the erosion of constitutionalism and democracy, which are both a negation of NRM's fundamental principles of national liberation as a revolutionary organisation.
“It is, therefore, my personal very well considered opinion that Museveni reconsiders these measures, and should he insist then it will be the duty of NRM to stop him using all the appropriate and legitimate processes available within the party organs and Parliament. We all know that the on-going opposition activities are a nuisance but that should not be fought by imposing derogation of popular and desirable constitutional rule.”
In an editorial on Monday, the New Vision, in which the government owns majority shares, also urged “caution on the crime of economic sabotage as it is not well defined,” “it is broad and can be abused”.
Writing alongside Mr. Opondo, opposition Member of Parliament Wafula Oguttu who is also the Spokesperson of the Forum for Democratic Change said, “With the proposed constitution amendment, the President wants to criminalise peaceful demonstrations which are another form of expressions of citizens. He is using his office to take away citizens' rights because exercising those rights threatens his continued hold onto power.”
Prof. Joe Oloka-Onyango, a professor of law at Makerere University, in an opinion piece published by The Observer and Daily Monitor that Museveni’s proposal would be a further restriction on the rights to speak, associate and demonstrate.
“If the automatic right to bail is removed, it will affect several other rights, such as freedom of movement, the right to life (in its broadest sense), freedom of speech, and many others,” he said. “It will also run against both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution, which reminds us to “recall our history” of tyranny and dictatorship in order not to repeat it.”
Writing in his weekly column in the Saturday Monitor ACME’s Director of Programmes, Mr. Bernard Tabaire, said the “Media must not cave in to this presidential bullying either for business or other considerations. To do so would be to allow autocracy to flourish.”
Reporters without Borders also came out strongly against the proposed amendment saying it could be used to imprison journalists accused of scaring away potential tourists and investors through their coverage of processions that later turn violent.
“We ask the government to reconsider the amendment. President Museveni clearly has journalists in his sights,” the RWB statement reads.
Press freedom defenders and journalists’ organisations in Uganda have petitioned parliament over the violence inflicted on journalists by the army and the police in recent months.
In an August 1 petition to the committee on defence and internal affairs, 10 organisations, including the African Centre for Media Excellence, cited incidents in which the security organs roughed up more than 30 journalists between April and July this year.
According to the petitioners, cases of violence included arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings, targeted shootings, blocking accessibility to news scenes, and confiscation of equipment such as cameras and recorders.
The petitioners say that no action has been taken against police personnel and soldiers who, in their violent acts against the journalists, also violated their own disciplinary code. The petitioners therefore want the committee to summon the leadership of the police and the army to explain the conduct of their subordinates and to punish culprits with a view to stopping the crude treatment of journalists.
Cases cited in the petition
• March 2011: A journalist in Jinja lost a tooth after she was beaten by the police while covering a function involving politicians.
• April 14: Four journalists were roughed up by police and army personnel around Kampala. In Masaka, four journalists suffered physical assault by the UPDF while covering events in the municipality.
• May 12: Soldiers assaulted 8 journalists and confiscated their equipment on Entebbe Road while covering the return of the opposition leader, Dr Kizza Besigye. A journalist was also shot at that day.
• May 18: Cameras of journalists covering the eviction of people from a wetland were confiscated, and pictures and video footage deleted by police.
The petition also mentions a case of impersonation of journalists by security personnel. “In April, a man believed to be a police officer was caught by journalists wearing a WBS TV jacket posing as a cameraman. The station denied knowledge of the man.”
Quoting Article 221 of the Constitution – which provides that all security agencies have to protect, respect and promote human rights and freedoms as they perform their duties – the petitioners add that the “actions of the Uganda Police Force … and the Uganda People’s Defence Forces of removing tools from the Members of the Press clearly violated this right”.
Mr Wokulira Ssebaggala, the co-ordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists who was among those who delivered the petition, said that members of parliament had asked for more evidence on the cases presented.
“We presented the evidence and we shall be at parliament again on Tuesday [August 9] when the police and army appear before the same committee to answer to some of the queries we have raised,” he said.
Mr Haruna Kanabi of the Independent Media Council Uganda led the team to parliament.
A debate is afoot in Ghana about media freedom, but this time with a twist over whether a repealed criminal libel law should not be re-introduced to curb “media excesses.”
The editor of the Daily Palaver, Jojo Bruce Quansah, believes the law which was repealed by the government of former president John Kufuor “was not properly thought through.”
“President Kufuor took the decision because he had made the promise on the campaign trail to expunge the law,” noted Mr Quansah, whose paper is aligned to the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Indeed, his comments are not surprising because the debate seems to be taking shape along political party alignments.
According to the pro-NDC editor, President Kufuor’s “intention was not good because he used the repeal to sway journalists to his party’s side.”
The retired president belongs to the National Patriotic Party (NPP), which is now the main opposition.
As with Mr Quansah, there is a body of opinion in Ghana which feels the removal of media constraints gave rise to a politicised and highly partisan press.
Most newspapers and radio stations overtly support particular political parties. Also, many of the media outlets are owned by politicians.
National Media Commission chairman Kabral Blay-Amihere does not accept that the repeal of the criminal libel law is the cause of the media irresponsibility seen today.
But he admits that “political ownership and politicisation of issues in the media is the main cause of the bad journalism.”
According to Bright Blewu, secretary-general of the Ghana Journalists Association, media partisanship should not be exaggerated. “If you look at the media landscape as a whole, the repeal of the law has greatly contributed to more transparency and has prevented people in authority from taking Ghanaians for granted,” he says.
Former president Kufuor, whose party is angling for a power comeback in elections next year, agrees that there have been “some excesses” on the part of journalists but feels this does not warrant the curbing of press freedom.
Nonetheless, the view that the media in Ghana is totally free is not universally shared.
Ernest Kofi Abotsi, a law lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, notes that even though the criminal libel and sedition laws were expunged, there still exists other laws that the Kufuor government by-passed which stifle press freedom and freedom of expression.
He cites section 208 of the 1960 criminal code, which he argues can be criminally against the press.
Another one in the statutes is the law on causing “fear and panic,” which Mr Abotsi says is too broad and can be “unlawfully applied.”
Though government of President John Atta Mills is not about to repeal any law so that he can clamp down on media freedom, there are some in his NDC as well as among his supporters who are grumbling that sections of the media have taken the freedom they enjoy too far.
SOURCE: Africa Review
A new study tells of how opposition political voices in Uganda continue to be muzzled by limited access to the airwaves especially radio stations owned by pro-government officials.
Using the last elections as the starting point, the study notes that candidates did not only focus on tackling issues such as poverty and agriculture and a large and growing bureaucracy, but “there was as well a contest over media outlets, especially radio which is the most common medium in Uganda, making the media an important player in the electoral process”.
The study reveals that many leading NRM politicians and NRM-leaning business people own radio stations all over the country and sometimes dictate who is hosted on the talk shows.
Conducted by the African Centre for Media Excellence, the study is titled: 'The Views Expressed Must Represent those of Management: Radio Ownership and Its Impact on Political Speech in Uganda’ .
It sought to establish whether political considerations, in whatever form, influence award of broadcast licences or allocation of frequencies and decisions to grant or deny different interested parties time on air.
The study documents various incidents in the campaign season during which opposition candidates were denied airtime on radio stations, especially those owned by pro-government business people and politicians.
Officials and candidates of the main opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), were denied airtime several times on various radio stations in the country. FDC is led by Dr Kizza Besigye, the man who has challenged President Museveni for State House in the last three election cycles.
The national broadcaster UBC reneged on a contract with the FDC when the station did not air many of the adverts paid for by the party. The station later returned the deposit.
FDC officials told the researchers that Kagadi Kibaale Community Radio (KKCR), based in the Bunyoro region of western Uganda, inexplicably went off-air 15 minutes into a paid-for talk show sponsored by the party.
“The ‘mysterious’ stoppage of the programme was attributed to the fact that Mwalimu Musheshe, a founder and chairman of Uganda Rural Development and Training Programme, a non-governmental organisation that owns the station, was also the board chairman of the National Agricultural Advisory Services, a large-scale government programme that supports farmers,” says the report.
The radio station denied the allegations. Ms Jackline Akello, the director of programmes at KKCR, attributed the incident to power interruption.
“Indeed, Dr Besigye’s show on KKCR was supposed to run for one hour from 9 pm but our ten-year-old generator developed technical problems. The programme thus went off air after 20 minutes, and the problem was not solved until after about six hours.”
She added that while the station had for the past five years dedicated airtime to critical voices, “they have been using the time to abuse rivals and building their political careers instead of using it to build the community…We think democracy is bigger than politicians and any of their political organizations…We do not discriminate on the basis of political affiliation”.
The study found that six other radio stations in Bunyoro, namely, Bunyoro Broadcasting Services, King’s Broadcasting Services, Radio Kitara, Spice FM, Hoima FM, and Liberty Broadcasting Services, indeed denied Dr Besigye access to their services.
Likewise, Dr Besigye’s appearance on Nakaseke FM in central Uganda was blocked. Mr Peter Balaba, the station manager, admitted that the radio declined to host Dr Besigye because some members of the community were uncomfortable with his being featured on the station. Nr Balaba would not reveal the details behind the decision.
In Moroto, north-eastern Uganda, Nenah FM ran a few of Dr Besigye’s campaign adverts before one of the radio’s directors, Nahaman Ojwe, ordered them off the air. Mr Ojwe happened to be the resident district commissioner of Moroto since 2007.
In Jinja, eastern Uganda, NBS FM took Dr Besigye’s adverts and money but later declined to air the adverts and subsequently returned the money.
NBS FM is owned by Mr Nathan Nabeta, who at the time was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Jinja East constituency on the ticket of the incumbent party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM).
Voice of Teso in Soroti in the northeast and Voice of Busoga in Jinja in the east are both owned by Mike Mukula, who is the NRM vice chairman for eastern Uganda.
Mukula who is the Soroti Municipality NRM MP admitted that his stations had refused to air Dr Besigye’s adverts, arguing that the owner of any business was at liberty to decide whom to do business with.
At Open Gate FM in Mbale, eastern Uganda, the director, Mr Charles Mukhwana, said that while the station was “always open” to all political views, they “were sometimes compelled to consult with the RDC and the security authorities when it came to hosting ‘controversial people’”. This, he said, was because they did not want to clash with the government.
Some NRM Members (MPs, and government workers who own FM radio stations)
|Kinkizi FM||Kanungu||Amama Mbabazi||Prime Minister|
|Rukungiri FM||Rukungiri||Jim Muhwezi||Rujumbura County MP|
|Super FM||Rukungiri||Peter Sematimba|
|Voice of Lango||Lira||Felix Ogong||Dokolo County MP|
|Radio Paidha||Nebbi||Simon D’Ujanga||State Minister for Energy|
|Radio One and Two (Akaboozi Ku Biri)||Kampala||Maria Kiwanuka||Minister of Finance
|Arua One||Arua||Mohammed Omar||Former presidential aide|
|Radio Kitara||Masindi||Ali Kiiza||Museveni’s chief pilot|
|Bunyoro Broadcasting Service||Masindi||Ernest Kiiza||Masindi Municipality MP|
|Rwenzori FM||Kabale||Frank Tumwebaze||Kibaale MP|
|Voice of Bunyoro||Masindi||Kabakumba Matsiko||Minister for Presidency|
|Crane Broadcasting Ltd||Bushenyi||Mary Karooro Okurut||Minister of information and national guidance|
|Radio Ankole||Ntungamo||Mwesigwa Rukutana||Minister for Youth, Labour, Employment & Industrial Relations|
|Radio Endigyito||Kitagwenda||Nulu Byamukama||MP- Kitagwenda|
|Metro FM||Kampala||Edward Babu||Chairman- National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Former Minister|
|Voice of Teso and Voice of Busoga||Soroti/Jinja||Mike Mukula||MP- Soroti Municipality and NRM vice chairman for eastern Uganda.|
|NBS FM||Jinja||Nathan Nabeta||MP Jinja Municipality East|
The report also documents various measures taken by radio stations before critical speakers are allowed on air.
“At Choice FM in Gulu, northern Uganda, manager Joseph Odwar said that the station was independent but required whoever was to go on air to fill out a form on which the guest indicated what he or she intended to talk about. If approved, the presenter or programme host was then obliged to ensure that the guest did not divert from the commitment made on paper.”
Other radio managers have to consult the RDCs before they agree to let anyone speak on air.
Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of regulator Uganda Communications Commission, however, said the political parties did not lodge formal complaints because, “They gave them to the media. In that case we could not take any action because if we do not receive any complaints, there is nothing we can do about it. There is no way we can deal with an issue that has not been formally brought to our attention in writing.”
Mr Mutabazi also said granting of licences is not done based on which political party an applicant belongs to.
Various UN member states on Tuesday, October 11, questioned Uganda’s commitment toward upholding media freedoms in the country.
Uganda was one of the countries under scrutiny at the Universal Periodic Review conducted by the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Ireland, Germany, Norway, Denmark and Sweden are some of the states that called on the Uganda government to drop clauses in the draft Press and Journalist Bill 2010 that seeks to curtail media freedoms in various guises.
The Germany representative warned that the proposed Bill would lead to “increased censorship and self-censorship of the media” due to the new requirement of annual licensing of newspapers.
Ireland noted “the existence of laws in Uganda that can serve the purpose of restricting the freedom of the media” before recommending that “these laws be revised and the Government of Uganda take steps to abolish laws criminalising defamation and insult, and to fully comply with legislation that protects the freedom of expression”.
The UK asked, “What steps are you taking to reassess the legislative provisions for media regulation?”
Junior foreign minister Henry Okello-Oryem, leading the Uganda team, said the proposed bill was made in consultation with journalists and civil society. He added: “Any stakeholder with additional comments is free to submit them.”
The minister’s assertion on consultation implies that media practitioners in Uganda are in agreement with suggested provisions. “If that was his point, the minister is wrong,” said Mr. Bernard Tabaire, the director of programmes at the African Centre of Media Excellence, the Kampala-based organisation that has conducted research to inform opposition to various provisions in the bill.
“Media people in Uganda remain opposed, particularly, to the requirement that newspapers be registered and licensed upon meeting and maintaining certain obnoxious requirements,” Mr. Tabaire said. “This limits media freedom and must be expunged from the draft bill.”
In its national paper submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, Uganda wrote that the Press and Journalist Act, Cap 105, which the government is seeking to amend, is in place “to ensure press freedom, provide for a Council responsible for mass media and for establishment of an Institute of Journalists”.
The government also told the UN that the increased number of media outlets was a sign that Uganda was enjoying freedom of expression.
“There are 245 private Radio Stations, 15 Television Stations and more than dozen daily and weekly newspapers; reporting freely on local politics and other developments,” the government submitted, adding: “Independent print media outlets have offered a range of opposition views some of which are often highly critical of the Government.”
In an October 10 press statement, ARTICLE 19, an international free expression watchdog, urged the Human Rights Council to hold Uganda to account and ensure that the country’s deteriorating freedom of expression situation is addressed and improved.
“The right to freedom of expression and media freedom have fallen prey to excessive government control,” said the statement signed by Mr. Henry Maina, the director of the East Africa regional chapter of ARTICLE 19.
In an earlier submission to the Rights Council, ARTICLE 19 highlighted a series of ills against the media: the restriction of freedoms of expression and press freedom via various acts and laws, the control of media reportage on critical public issues, misuse of media regulators to infringe on freedom of expression, misuse of state security agents and ruling political party adherents to repress and violate the rights of journalists and bloggers, and violence against media workers.
“ARTICLE 19 calls on the Uganda Government to stop all pending prosecutions of journalists and bring perpetrators of violence against journalists to justice,” it said.
The member states at the review meeting also spoke out strongly against the excessive use of force by police and security personnel during the walk to work (W2W) demonstrations against the rising cost of living in April 2011. The protests left many journalists injured and their equipment destroyed. The review meeting challenged the government to hold accountable those who harassed the journalists.
“Denmark strongly deplores attacks on journalists and excessive use of force against W2W demonstrators,” that country’s representative said.
The Czech republic representative chimed in saying: “Government deploys a wide range of tactics to stifle critical reporting, from occasional violence to threats, harassment, bureaucratic interference, and criminal charges against journalists.”