IFEX, 19th February, 2016; Over 140 international media rights bodies have called on the United States government, the United Nations and European Union to use their diplomatic channels to bear pressure on the Ugandan authorities to ensure the that fundamental rights and freedoms of journalists, the civil society and politicians are respected in the ongoing general elections in the country.
The International Freedom of Expression (IFEX), a global network of 104 freedom of expression organizations wrote to the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda -Ambassador Deborah Malac, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights -Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy -Federica Mogherini to ensure that the incumbent government of Uganda ends its crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly during the election period and beyond.
“IFEX, the global network of 104 organisations dedicated to promoting and defending freedom of expression, writes to you with serious concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda in the lead up to Presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 18 February 2016. We call on you to use all diplomatic channels to urge the Government of Uganda to respect freedom of expression, assembly and information as fundamental rights that are essential to the conduct of free and fair elections.” reads the IFEX petition.
They noted that the Ugandan government is notorious for its suppression of criticism and has often targeted journalists, activists and human rights defenders with punitive measures aimed at closing down space for public debate and the airing of complaints about the regime’s abuses. The government employs various tactics to close the civil spaces, including “repressive and overbroad legislation, media bans, judicial harassment, and heavy-handed violence by state security forces.”
“The government is already implicated in a litany of recent tactics to prevent the free flow of information necessary for voters to make informed decisions about their collective political future. Harassment and intimidation of groups deemed critical of the government or supportive of the opposition have occurred at the hands of police, regional district commanders and government officials. Reports of violent assaults, involuntary seizures, forced closures, bribery and other incidents have all gone up over recent months.” The petition goes on the say
IFEX noted that with, “this level of abuse, it is clear that the standards for free and fair elections are not being met and could lead to substantial unrest both prior to and after the election results are in. It is worth remembering that in the past, the sitting government has not hesitated to use lethal force to put down protests, such as occurred in 2009 and 2011.
IFEX said the international community has a crucial role to play in encouraging the government to allow constituents and advocacy groups to voice their opinions about the candidates and their policies, and to permit the media to carry out their work of covering the election unimpeded. It is similarly critical to encourage Uganda’s political leaders to respect the rights of its citizens to demonstrate peacefully and refrain from the use of force.
At the same time, the African Freedom of Expression (AFEX) joined the campaign for upholding fundamental rights and freedoms of the media, human rights defenders, and political players, among others. The AFEX members included; Media Foundation for West Africa, Center for Media Studies & Peace Building, Journaliste en danger, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Media Rights Agenda, National Union of Somali Journalists, West African Journalists Association.