Put an end to abuse and intimidation of journalists

A man waves to journalists arrested and bundled onto a police pick-up truck. The journalists were covering the police re-arrest of FDC presidential candidate Kizza Besigye as he attempted to leave his home in Kasangati, Wakiso District in the past. They were briefly detained at Kasangati Police Station. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The issue: Press freedom
  • Our view: We urge the authorities to create an atmosphere where journalists can work freely without worrying about retaliation.

Authorities, especially security agencies, must respect the constitutionally guaranteed right to press freedom and refrain from intimidating and harassing journalists doing their work.

On January 3, the Police in Obongi District arrested four journalists who had been following up on the ex-MP Hassan Kaps Fungaroo arrest story. The journalists include; Mr Scovin Iceta (Nation Media Group correspondent), Mr Ronald Debo, the news editor of Trans-Nile broadcasting services in Moyo, Mr Mustafa Safi, the programme manager Voice of the Nile in Moyo, and Mr Stephen Unzimai of Radio Pacis in Moyo.

According to one of the journalists, their arrest and detention was a crude attempt to divert them from covering the story. There is a pattern.

Last week, conflicting stories emerged following the arrest and detention of journalist Dickson Mubiru by the police on allegations of criminal defamation.

We view the act of arresting and detaining the four journalists doing their work as part of wider acts of violence, intimidation and bullying against journalists. Violence and harassment of journalists are considered an international crime under the Rome Statute to which Uganda is a signatory.

Uganda’s record on freedom of expression, access to information and the general media environment has been deteriorating. In the Global Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, Uganda dropped from 117th in 2018 to 132 out of 180 in the 2022 index.

These acts paint a depressing image of a field that aims to serve the public by learning the facts on their behalf. The proper legal procedures must be followed whenever there are disputes over media content or the behavior of journalists and other media professionals. The climate of dread and insecurity among journalists is exacerbated by kidnapping, abduction, illegal arrests, and incarceration. In an era of growing financial vulnerability in the media sector, journalists and media organisations already have to deal with commercial pressures and legal threats.

We urge the authorities to create an atmosphere where journalists can work freely without worrying about retaliation. A free press is necessary for the defense, advancement, and fulfillment of the rights to information and to freedom of expression. Beginning the year on such a depressing note can only mean disaster for the future. If it is a government policy, we advise reconsidering it because a free press is crucial to the development of any society.

Authentic journalism is crucial in many aspects of our life. We will only be able to discover creative answers to the enormous problems our society faces through vigorous public debate and investigation. Every day, threats of different sizes occur and keep journalists from doing their jobs. They may also dissuade others from discussing subjects that might provoke the same intimidation.