Uganda deports foreign journalists ahead of election 

A scan of the official press accreditation cards issued to the CBC news crew by the media council of Uganda. (CBC)

The Government of Uganda has deported three foreign journalists who were in the country to cover the 2021 General Election, which is only a month away. 

CBC News foreign correspondent Margaret Evans, Producer Lily Martin and Videographer Jean-François Bisson were deported from Uganda last Friday. 

Ms Evans stated on Twitter that they were arrested last week by Ugandan immigration officers and detained for 10 hours before being deported.

“#Ugandan gov’t avoiding outside scrutiny of Jan elections already. We were deported Friday even though we had official media credentials,” she tweeted.

In a  press statement about the occurrence, issued by the Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ), Ms Evans reveals that the team’s application for accreditation from the Media Council of Uganda was accepted before they entered the country. 

She adds that they sought advice from the Ugandan High Commission in London on the appropriate visa requirements before the trip. “They advised that we enter Uganda on an ‘ordinary’ or tourist visa. This is long-established practice for foreign journalists,” she’s quoted. 

The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Uganda (FCAU) condemns the deportation and urges the government to ensure a transparent electoral process.

“A free press is a vital part of the democratic process. That includes journalists from other countries to cover elections. The CBC journalists had asked the Ugandan High Commission in London about the requirements for entering the country, and had complied with what they had been told. Their expulsion sets a disturbing precedent.”

However, in his response to the incident, Uganda government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said on Twitter that Uganda reserves the right to admit foreign persons to the country, including journalists.

“You don’t apply for a tourist visa only to be found working as a journalist. You broke your own terms of stay in Uganda. Nevertheless, you can reapply and will be accredited if you want to work as a journalist in Uganda,” he said. 

On why the journalists were deported regardless of the fact that they held accreditation cards from the Media Council of Uganda, Ofwono Opondo in an interview with the Uganda Radio Network says the journalists were accredited to cover COVID-19 and Tourism in Bwindi Forest but were found doing other things unrelated to what they were accredited for.

“They applied for and had been accredited to work on two stories, COVID-19 and Tourism in Bwindi. However, according to Police, they were found doing other things unrelated to the two stories they had applied to cover.  They were handed over to Immigration,” he says. 

Uganda will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 14 January 2021. However, the electoral process has been marred by abuses against the media, since the nomination of presidential candidates at the beginning of last month. 

Reporters Without Borders reported on 25 November 2020 that it had documented seventeen “press freedom violations” in Uganda within three weeks – almost an average of one breach each day – from the day presidential candidates were nominated in early November.

The Africa Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has also documented these violations.  They include the separate arrests of Vision Group’s Roland Kakooza and Tonny Lule; the case of freelance journalist Moses Bwayo, struck in the face by a rubber bullet allegedly fired by police; and, an irate gang’s 12 November broad-day attack on Nile Broadcasting Service (NBS) Television journalists Thomas Kitimbo and Daniel Lutaaya during which the attackers vandalised their car and stole electronic gadgets.

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