Media under continued attack; police raid radio stations in Western Uganda

Press Statement: For immediate release

Media under continued attack; police raid radio stations in Western Uganda

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is dismayed and deeply concerned with the heightened narrowing space for the media in Uganda. For the last 3 months, we have witnessed numerous arbitrary raids, threats and orders to media houses by police and other State agencies. Two radio stations in Western Uganda were raided by the police for allegedly accommodating ‘dissenting views’.

The continued harassment and intimidation of journalists and the media by Police and other State machinery is leading to censorship of information for fear of being closed down. The wanton acts of invading media houses, the compulsory accreditation of journalists, violently blocking peaceful assemblies and demonstrations by persons meant to provide protection to the citizenry is despicable most especially if geared towards narrowing space and limiting platforms for free exchange of opinions and ideas. This is contrary to the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and access to information.

On the night of Thursday 27th-March-2014, police in Kabale Town, led by the Kabale District Police Commander, Mr Bosco Arop, stormed the studios of Voice of Kigezi radio and stopped a talk show in which Bishop (Rtd) Zac Niringiye and the FDC leader Mugisha Muntu had been hosted accusing the duo of ‘inciting violence and disturbing peace’. The 2-hour program had gone on for only 30 minutes when its host, Namanya Santurina, was ordered to halt it. Earlier in the day, the police ordered two other radio stations; Hope Radio and Kabale Freedom Radio not to host the electoral reform advocates, who have embarked on a nationwide campaign to gunner support for electoral reforms ahead of the 2016 general elections.

On Saturday, 29th_March-2014, police in Kasese raided another radio station -Kasese Guide Radio and stopped a talk show in which the FDC President Mugisha Muntu was being hosted. This attack on the radio was led by the Rwenzori Regional Police Commander (RPC), Thomas Kasimo, who claimed that the radio station was being used to incite violence. He invoked instructions from above to order the closure of the program claiming that Muntu’s presence was ‘inciting violence’. The show host, Edward Makanika, was forced to switch off the program pre-maturely. The RPC before blocking the radio talk show had earlier on stopped a public lecture at Kabale University claiming that it was ‘illegally planned’.

Last year, the country witnessed the arbitrary siege and closure of The Monitor publications and its two sister radio stations and the Red pepper for 10 days over allegedly giving space to dissenting views. In November 2013, police arrested a Top Radio talk show host, Richard Kasule a.k.a Kamagu accusing him of ‘inciting violence’ after he had hosted the Kampala Deputy Lord Mayor, Sulaiman Kidandala.

This situation has been aggravated by the introduction of onerous registration processes for journalists in Uganda including payment of high annual fees despite the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights declaring that these onerous processes amount to restrictions of the freedom to practice journalism and aim at controlling rather than regulating the profession. The unfair acts of government arm-twisting media houses to offer free prime time to state functionaries to ‘popularize government programs’ and labeling journalists partisan have negative impacts on freedom of expression and the media.

Debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open. Freedom of the press is fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people. The Media plays a very fundamental role in preserving a free and open society through dissemination of information that encourages debate and contributes to good governance in Uganda.

Therefore, an environment where free flow of information is restricted, people are intimidated for speaking out their minds and where journalists are blocked from disseminating information is unprogressive

Way forward
1. Police should desist from interfering with media work under the guise of ‘orders from above’.
2. Uganda Communications Commission and the Media Council should stop issuing unwarranted instructions to media houses
3. The Ministry of Information and National Guidance should withdraw its irregular orders to broadcasters seeking for free airtime to popularize government programs
4. Journalists and media practitioners should stand firm and fight for media space, freedom of expression and free speech.

HRNJ-UG Admin

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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