STATEMENT – Attacks on independent media and civic space must stop

For Immediate Release
27 December 2020

Kampala—There has been yet another attack on journalists covering the 2021 general election campaigns in Uganda. Saif-llah Ashraf Kasirye, a Radio One correspondent and an online Ghetto TV cameraman, NTV’s Ali Mivule, and Daniel Lutaaya of NBS TV were injured earlier on Sunday as police attempted to disperse supporters of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.

Ghetto TV is a popular online outlet that streams live Mr Kyagulanyi’s campaign and is one of several platforms that the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) asked Google to take down recently.

Over the last seven weeks, at least 15 journalists have been attacked, injured, and/or arrested as they covered 2021 election-related events.

“The increasingly brazen and arbitrary clampdown on independent journalism and civic space in the run-up to the general elections is a cause of serious concern,” said Dr Peter G. Mwesige, the executive director of African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME).

A week ago, security agencies arrested a prominent human rights lawyer for allegedly laundering money. Mr Nicholas Opiyo, executive director of Chapter Four Uganda, was arrested together with three other lawyers — Herbert Dakasi, Anthony Odur, Esomu Obure, and Hamid Tenywa. The three lawyers have since been released on bail. Mr Opiyo remains in custody until he has a chance to apply for bail in the Anti-Corruption Court on 28 December. He has consistently spoken out against human rights violations by government agencies, and offered legal representation to human rights defenders.

On 29 October, the Uganda National NGO Bureau suspended the operations of the National Election WatchUganda, a loose coalition of more than 60 NGOs that had come together to monitor the 2021 elections. The move was largely interpreted as an attempt to limit scrutiny over the elections given that similar loose coalitions have monitored elections since 1996 without the need to register as legal entities.

In late November, the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) ordered the freezing of bank accounts of the National NGO Forum (UNNGOF) and Uganda Women Network (UWONET), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in good governance and election observation in the country. Reports indicated that the four had been under surveillance for some time over their alleged links and “friendliness” to the opposition political parties.

“These infringements on media and civic space do not augur well for peaceful elections and the general stability of the country,” Dr Mwesige said. “We demand that the government upholds and respects the roles and rights of all citizens and stakeholders in this election.”

The safety of journalists is particularly critical because without free media citizens won’t access the accurate information they need to make informed decisions and participate in their governance. The perpetrators of these attacks on journalists must be brought to book.

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