Police top list of perpetrators of attacks on journalists in Uganda for fourth year

The Uganda Police Force was the major perpetrator of violent crimes against journalists last year according to the Uganda Press Freedom Index released today by the Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ-Uganda). This is the fourth year in a row that the police have topped the list of violators of press freedom.

In the report titled, ‘Tough times: Political intolerance stifles media’, HRNJ-Uganda documents 135 cases of violations against journalists in 2016, a slight decline from 143 cases reported in 2015. Of the 135 cases, police committed 83 violations against the media. Other offenders were politicians, security agents and members of the public.

The report says journalists were assaulted, their tools were confiscated and they were repeatedly blocked from accessing new scenes. The police, in particular, are accused of malicious and brutal arrest, detention for hours, and damaging journalists’ equipment.

According to HRNJ-Uganda, the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections exposed journalists to increased attack.

The report reads: “The year 2016 marked an increase in abuses by members of the public largely because it was an election year where several parliamentary candidates had rowdy crowds that often targeted journalists assigned to report on the campaigns. In other instances, individuals who had ongoing cases in courts wanted to block journalists from covering their cases, and in the process they turned violent, vandalising press equipment and causing injury.”

Two reports released last week by Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House also pointed to the elections as a key cause for violations against journalists in Uganda in 2016.

The Uganda Press Freedom Index states that 46 media houses were affected by press freedom violations in 2016. Of these, Daily Monitor was most affected, with 14 journalists suffering violations. The part-government owned New Vision did not escape attack, with 12 cases of abuse of its journalists reported. In third place was NBS Television where nine cases of violations against journalists were recorded.

Speaking at the launch of the report Mr Richard Mugisha the country representative for the Open Society of Eastern Africa warned that the situation may worsen. He predicted that the nationwide economic downturn, land clashes and Kampala district leadership crises may put journalists in the crossfire in coming months.

Mr Nils Mueller, USAID Uganda Director for Democracy, Governance and Conflict Programmes, said the findings of the Press Freedom Index 2016 “highlight the urgent need for collaborative action to defend and promote media rights.” He appealed to media owners and employers to ensure the safety of their journalists both online and offline.

Highlights from the report

  • Over a dozen journalists have pending criminal defamation charges.
  • Criminal trespass charges are used to deter journalists from covering events
  • Media employers listed as offenders for threatening to dismiss journalists who demand for better pay
  • Of the 135 violations recorder, 16 directly involved female journalists. Male journalists continue to be the targets as they are the majority in many newsrooms.
  • HRNJ-Uganda noted a rise in the use of section 179 of the Penal Code Act that provides for the offence of criminal defamation.

Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

For the full Uganda Press Freedom Index 2016 visit the HRNJ-Uganda website.

Grace Natabaalo

Grace Natabaalo is a programme assistant at the African Centre for Media Excellence.

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