When journalism is a crime, you know you're in Uganda

Thursday September 13 2018

Press freedom

Security organs remain the main tormentors of journalists in Uganda while the state maintains a studious silence. The 2017 Press Freedom Index put the police at the forefront of tormenting journalists for nine consecutive years. PHOTO | NMG 

By SADAM MUBALLE
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Journalists have been subjected to brutality, detention and harassment under every regime in Uganda, though their only crime is to practise their profession.

Despite the constitutional provision that grants journalists and other Ugandans the right to express themselves freely, the state has played a significant role in suppressing that right and making their profession untenable.

Laws like the Anti-Terrorism Act 2002, the Anti-Pornography Act 2014, the Press and Journalism Act 1995, and the Public Order Management Act 2013 among others have been put in place to deny media professionals the freedom to do their work.

Closure of media houses, illegal detentions and torture of journalists have become routine, and nothing is done apart from insincere apologies from security organs.

President Yoweri Museveni promised fundamental changes in media freedom when he came to power; it was indeed one of the reasons for his resistance to the Obote regime. Over time, he has done exactly the opposite of what he said.

In Uganda today, covering anti-government protests has become a crime, with brutality against journalists now becoming a culture.

The #FreeBobiWine demos for example have seen journalists Ronald Galiwango and Juma Kirya of NTV, Julius Muhumuza of Dream TV, Alfred Ochwol of the Observer and James Akena, a photojournalist with Reuters News Agency, sustain serious injuries as a result of beatings by the police and the army.

While covering the Arua Municipality by-election, journalists Herbert Zziwa and Ronald Muwanga were assaulted, detained and later charged with inciting violence and malicious damage to property.

Security organs remain the main tormentors of journalists in Uganda while the state maintains a studious silence. The 2017 Press Freedom Index put the police at the forefront of tormenting journalists for nine consecutive years.

Arrests and detention of journalists topped the year with 45 cases followed by assault with 27 cases.

When is all this going to end? Organisations that are supposed to protect journalists have proved to be toothless bulldogs; the best they can do is issue a statement after the event.

Human Rights for Journalists Uganda should put pressure on the government to stop mistreatment of journalists.

It should work hand in hand with international organisations like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, and the United Nations Human Rights Commission to run a global campaign about the ongoing injustice against journalists in Uganda.

It should also organise boycotts of state events until the state comes out to clearly condemn these actions.

Only then shall we have a free and fair society where journalism as a profession will be respected. #JournalismIsNotACrime

Sadam Muballe is a student at Makerere University, Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]