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Free speech groups protest violence against Ugandan journalists

By Padraig Reidy / 5 June, 2013

Index on Censorship has joined Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) in writing a letter of protest to the country’s president President Yoweri Museveni, after the network’s national coordinator, Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala was attacked and arrested by police, Padraig Reidy reports.

Police and protesters clash at the offices of the Daily Monitor, Kampala. Picture Isaac Kasamani/Demotix

Police and protesters clash at the offices of the Daily Monitor, Kampala. Picture Isaac Kasamani/Demotix

According to HNRJ-Uganda, Ssebaggala was beaten and detained during a protest against the seizure of the headquaters of Monitor Publications Limited in Kampala last week. Daily Monitor, Dembe FM, K-FM and Red Pepper, were all raided by police on 20 May, after the Daily Monitor published a leaked letter concerning an alleged presidential succession plot. The outlets have subsequently reopened. But journalists in Uganda remain concerned by police harassment of journalists. According to HNRJ-Uganda, 42 of the 85 attacks on journalists carried out in the country in 2012 were perpetrated by members of the police forces.

HNRJ-Uganda and its partners in the International Free Expression Exchange (IFEX) are calling ofnPresident Museveni to uphold a commitment to press freedom made by Uganda at the Pan African Parliament in May of this year.

 

Read the letter below

 

Your Excellency,

 We the undersigned members of IFEX, the global network defending and promoting free expression, are writing to vigorously protest against violations of freedom of expression and assembly in Uganda. We are particularly concerned about the beating and arrest of the Coordinator and Chair of an IFEX member – the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda). The attack and detention occurred during a protest against media censorship in Kampala last week, where police fired teargas and used excessive force.

 On 28 May 2013, police violently dispersed a crowd of journalists and activists who had camped outside the Monitor Publications Limited, whose offices had been taken over by police – despite a court order for the police to vacate the premises. The police also sealed off the street where the Monitor building is located and confiscated two video cameras.

 HRNJ-Uganda’s National Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala was arrested along with journalist Mulindwa Mukasa, who is also Chair of the HRNJ-Uganda Board. Journalist William Ntege was also arrested. Ssebagala was freed shortly after and the other two were subsequently released.

 In addition to those arrested, other journalists suffered injuries as a result of the brutality, including a foreign journalist who was hit with a baton on  her left eye Other journalists injured include Bahati Remmy of NBS television and Sudhir Byaruhanga of NTV (a sister media house to The Daily Monitor), among others.

The journalists – led by HRNJ-Uganda – had walked to the Namuwongo area of Kampala on the morning of 28 May and camped outside of the Monitor offices to show solidarity and to demand that the government re-open the Daily Monitor, Dembe FM, K-FM and Red Pepper. These media outlets were raided and shut down on 20 May by security forces, who were searching for a controversial letter authored by the coordinator of security services about an alleged presidential succession plot. The Daily Monitor had published the letter.

While we are pleased that the media houses have since been reopened by a government order, we are disturbed by the pattern of police violence against the media, and the resulting impunity.

 According to HRNJ-Uganda’s annual report, half of all attacks on the media in 2012 were by police – 42 of the 85 recorded attacks on journalists last year. The police rank as the biggest violators of media freedom in Uganda since 2009. According to the 2012 report, “most of the attacks happened while journalists were covering controversial political issues as well as matters related to freedom of assembly and association.” And the pattern has continued into this year, with attacks on the media by police having been reported in February and now in May 2013.

As Uganda’s ruler since 1986, it behoves you to uphold the democratic rights to freedom of expression and assembly, according to Uganda’s international obligations.  We therefore urge you to:

 

·         Investigate the pattern of police violence and hold those responsible accountable; and

·         Uphold the principles of the resolution supporting a press freedom campaign that was launched at the Pan African Parliament (PAP) earlier in May, and which was supported by Uganda’s representatives.

 Yours sincerely,

 Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda)

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About Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy Padraig Reidy is a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.

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