Journalists doing their job should not be criminalised by the government and security

For Immediate Release

18 February 2021

Kampala

At least 8 journalists from six media houses were on 17 February 2021 assaulted by security personnel as they covered former presidential challenger Robert Kyagulanyi as he presented a petition to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kampala. Mr Kyagulanyi, president of the opposition National Unity Platform, had been joined by relatives of several persons who went missing during the general election campaigns and the immediate aftermath. 

We at the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) strongly condemn this brutal and totally unwarranted act that is becoming a common mode of operation by the security services. More than 40 journalists’ rights have been wantonly violated in the last three months, during which election campaigns were happening. 

“We urge the leadership of the army, police and other security agencies to not only restrain their officers from brutalising journalists going about their rightful work but also bring perpetrators to account,” said Dr Peter Mwesige, the executive director of ACME.

In what has become the new normal, security officers descended on the journalists covering Mr Kyagulanyi’s event, beating and leaving many journalists with serious injuries. Several were admitted to hospital.  

This is a continuation of the brutal violence journalists in Uganda have endured since November 2020, when presidential candidates were nominated. Journalists have been beaten, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, arrested and detained, and shot at with rubber bullets. They have lost equipment or had it variously damaged. 

Mr Kyagulanyi came second to President Yoweri Museveni in the presidential elections held on 14 January 2021. The NUP leader is challenging the outcome in the Supreme Court.

“This looks like an undeclared government campaign of no coverage for opposition politicians, with the media as the unfortunate victims,” said Dr Mwesige. “In all these incidents, journalists have been attacked as they covered opposition politicians. Journalists doing their job should not be criminalised by the government and security.”

The barefaced nature of these repeated attacks points to a deliberate campaign to stifle coverage and bar information flow and access. It is telling that Inspector General of Police Okoth Ochola told a press conference on 8 January 2021 that security operatives beat up journalists “for their own sake”. According to the IGP, security personnel have been using reasonable force to restrain the press for their own safety. At the same presser, the IGP declined to apologise for police violence against journalists.

As UN Secretary General António  Guterres said at the commemoration of the 2020 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, “when journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price. If we do not protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and make evidence-based decisions is severely hampered…”


ABOUT AFRICAN CENTRE FOR MEDIA EXCELLENCE: ACME is a Kampala-based independent, non-profit professional organisation committed to excellence in journalism and mass communication in Africa. The organisation fulfils its mandate through refresher training for mid-career journalists; media literacy training for civil society organisations, corporate companies and others; media research; free expression advocacy; and media monitoring. 

For further information, please contact Mr ApoloKakaire on +256772-416-179; akakaire@acme-ug.org


IMAGE: Daily Monitor’s Irene Abalo (centre) is helped by the publication’s acting managing editor (Dailies), Mr Tabu Butagira (right) and another colleague at International Diagnostic Centre where she got treatment after she was beaten by the military police yesterday. PHOTO | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI | DAILY MONITOR

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