African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has condemned the continuing attacks on, arrests and detention of Ugandan journalists by security officers.
During the political violence in Arua last week, NTV journalists Herbert Zziwa and Ronald Muwanga were pounced on and beaten by security officers as they reported live following the killing by shooting of Mr Yasin Kawuma, the driver of Kyadondo East Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine.
They were later charged with the dubious offence of incitement to violence and malicious damage to property.
It was also reported that NBS TV’s John Kibaliza was forcibly arrested and detained in an unknown place.
Yesterday, a week later, James Akena, a photographer working for the foreign news agency Reuters was beaten by soldiers, arrested and detained for several hours as he covered the #FreeBobiWine political protests in Kampala. His equipment was confiscated.
It has been reported that NTV journalists Ronald Galiwango and Juma Kirya as well as Observer photographer Alfred Ochwo were also beaten or roughed up.
“We have also learnt that some journalists have been forced to delete footage from their cameras and phones of soldiers responding to or beating protesters,” the statement released by Dr Peter Mwesige read.
Some media houses have also been forced not to show images of the political violence unravelling in different parts of the country.
“Clearly, the security forces that have responded to protesters in the last week want to carry out their wanton abuse of the rights of Ugandans in darkness,” said Dr Peter Mwesige, ACME’s Executive Director.
“They don’t want any witnesses to their high crimes. That’s why journalists have been targeted deliberately. This is unacceptable. We call upon the government to rein in members of the armed forces who are now presiding over this frightening erosion of press freedom and free expression in Uganda. As we have said before, press freedom and freedom of expression are not just about the rights of journalists and the media to receive and disseminate information.”
He said journalists are equally importantly about the right of the public to receive and impart information without which, “as our Supreme Court has continued to remind us, citizens can’t meaningfully participate in their own governance”.
He added: “That’s why the right to freedom of expression, including press freedom, and the right to know or access to information are protected by our Constitution.”
Dr Mwesige said stopping journalists from covering political protests and violence denies citizens access to information about what is going on in their country, including precautions they could take, such as roads or hot spots to avoid, when violence breaks out.
“No degree of imperfections in our media ranks can justify the wanton abuse that security forces have visited on journalists in the last week.”
He urged journalists to stay the course and speak truth to power. Remain the eyes and ears of the public.
“Stay accurate and truthful, investigate claims made by the different political players, provide explanation and context, be fair and balanced, stay independent from all vested interests, and keep the news proportionate to what is going on around us.”
He urged government to respect the constitutional and international obligations that bind Uganda to “recognise, respect, uphold, promote and protect freedom of expression, including press freedom”.