The government in Uganda is failing to uphold press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information, according to the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ).
The group has submitted a report to the United Nations, urging its Human Rights Council to intervene on the grounds that Uganda is a signatory to several international treaties it has failed to comply with.
HRNJ says the safety and security of journalists in Uganda is frail, with many being murdered, subjected to arbitrary arrests, torture, intimidation and harassment at the hands of the authorities.
According to the group, 50 cases of violence against media workers were reported in 2010, up from 35 cases in 2009.
Two journalists were killed in Uganda last year. Dickson Ssentongo was beaten to death with iron bars as he was on his way to work in Mukono district on September 13. He presented a daily news broadcast at Prime Radio and had also run as an opposition candidate in a local election.
Just three days earlier, Paul Kiggundu, a Top Radio correspondent, was killed by a crowd of motorcycle taxi drivers in the southern town of Rakai when spotted filming their attack on the home of another driver they accused of murder and robbery.
Uganda has a number of laws which limit freedom of expression. These include the Interception of Communications Act which permits the tapping of all types of communications and the Anti-terrorism act, which sets death as punishment for any journalist who writes about a "terrorist" group.
Under the Electronic Media Act, the Broadcasting Council has used it powers of regulating media contents by closing down media outlets and ordering the sacking of critical journalists.
Uganda's media regulatory bodies are supposed to be independent from the government. Nevertheless, the cabinet minister of security, information and ICT have applied excessive powers in controlling them.
HRNJ says the regulatory bodies have imposed stringent control on media houses to the extent of directing recruitments and interfering with contents to suit interest of the government. A number of incidents where opposition politicians have been denied airtime on private radio and TV stations have been reported.
The Media Offences Department within the Ugandan police monitors media output on a daily basis and interrogates journalists over reports.
The Constitutional Court nullified Uganda’s sedition law on August 25, 2010. Nonetheless, several journalists and activists still face sedition charges, HRNJ says, even though the court found this law in contravention of Article 29 of the Ugandan Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, opinion, and conscience.
Uganda is up for a review of its human rights situation in October under the United Nations Universal Periodic Review mechanism.
In its report, HRNJ called on the UN human rights council to:
- Ask the government of Uganda to repeal all laws that impede the freedom of the press, expression, opinion and conscience as well as information.
- Push government to implement the decision by the Constitutional Court which overturned the sedition provision and therefore immediately dismiss all sedition charges against journalists and politicians.
- Task the government to make public all reports emerging from investigations of murdered journalists and police brutality and prosecute all those implicated.