Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda’s press freedom index released in March shows an astronomical increase of journalists harassed by the Uganda Police Force from 40 in 2014 to 107 in 2015.
The sixth press freedom index in the row by HRNJ-Uganda reveals that violations against journalists‘ by the police force include assault, inhumane arrests, detention and release without charge.
The report, titled Political Coverage Criminalized, discloses that journalists were brutally assaulted, their cameras confiscated and arrested for taking photos of police using extreme force while dispersing public meetings and quelling peaceful demonstrations. HRNJ-Uganda noted that although most of the violent attacks by police were dismissed by the police leadership as mere actions of individual officers, no effective investigation were carried out to punish the perpetrators.
Media gagging, according to the report continues to reign through the draconian provisions of the Penal Code Act and the Press and Journalists’ Act (2000).
Launching the report at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala on Tuesday March 29th/2016, the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa Country Director, Richard Mugisha, said the police’s harassment of journalists while carrying out their duties on the streets amounts to denying them work.
“President Museveni has declared war on poverty through wealth creation programs, but when you beat and force journalists out of the streets you are creating poverty”, Mugisha noted adding that journalists earn from gathering information from the streets and disseminate it to people. He called upon journalists to report about violations of other peoples’ rights and their rights to report freely.
Mugisha said freedom is not given on a silver plate but must be fought for. He said what the police is doing to journalists can only stop if the Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura speaks out against it. “Kayihura must come out openly and say don’t beat journalists,” the country director said.
He applauded HRNJ-Uganda for continuously documenting and analyzing journalists’ abuses in the country.
Dr. Donald Rukare, the Head Party, Freedom House, urged duty bearers to respect freedom of the media and ensure that media laws match with international standards on press freedom.
The head of Uganda Police media crimes department, Commissioner Kuteesa Simon speaking at the launch denied the police is championing brutality. He advised journalists to always report to the head of police operations when ever they go to report so that there presence is known. “Some of you just come to the scene and don’t report to the commander in charge just because you have a (press) jacket but this is not enough in this day and error of terrorism,” the Commissioner said adding that he has no apologies for journalists who had trouble with police for not introducing themselves.
He said that the Police Standards Unit, has done a lot to follow up on the complaints lodged to their office. However, this was disputed by HRNJ-Uganda National coordinator, Robert Ssempala who argued that a number of cases referred to PSU had not been handled.
Download a copy of the Press Freedom Index Report 2015 here: Political Coverage Criminalized