(Media Institute/IFEX) - Thirty-one IFEX members write a joint letter to President Museveni in the wake of attacks on the press:
September 15, 2009
H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
PO Box 7168
Fax: + 256 414 346 102
Over the past one week, Uganda has experienced unprecedented violent protests caused by political differences between the government and the traditional kingdom of Buganda. It is not our part to apportion blame for the chaos that left scores of people dead.
However, we are deeply concerned about the government's assault on the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and press freedom in the process. Several journalists have been injured and key media shut down.
On 10 September 2009, security agents dismantled and seized the transmission equipment from Buganda kingdom's radio station, CBS, before the government closed the broadcaster.
On 11 September, Uganda's Information minister Kabakumba Matsiko suspended three privately-owned radio stations - Suubi FM, Radio Sapienta and Radio Two Akaboozi Kubiri - for allegedly inciting "criminal mobs engaged in acts of theft, violence against persons, and destruction of property."
On the same day, at around 11:00 p.m., renowned journalist and playwright Robert Kalundi Sserumaga was abducted outside WBS television soon after participating in a television debate in which he criticised your leadership style. He was subjected to inhuman treatment and tortured by security agents. He was charged two days later with sedition for allegedly attacking your person with intention of bringing "hatred, contempt and disaffection against the person of the President".
The Ugandan government has also proceeded to ban several talk shows and live radio call-in programmes (Ebimeeza) based on the claim that the stations are unable to control their content. As well, individual journalists and commentators have been banned from appearing on any broadcasting medium.
These actions amount to blatant suppression of free speech and cannot be justified in any democratic society. They run contrary to Uganda's constitution and international standards for human rights. Freedom of expression is guaranteed as a fundamental human right under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights to which your country is a party.
We, the undersigned freedom of expression groups from around the world, urge your Excellency to lift the ban on the four radio stations and allow freedom of expression to reign in your country despite political differences.
We seek your assurances that media practitioners will not be subjected to degrading and inhuman treatment for expressing their opinion or simply doing their job. Specifically, we demand that Mr. Sserumaga be accorded a fair trial.
These repressive actions not only undermine your own standing in the eyes of the international community but expose Uganda as a place where civil liberties and investments are not secure.
Your country now ranks among those in which media freedom is in peril, with over 18 journalists either in jail or charged with various offences relating to their work. While we do not condone criminal activity by any journalist, we believe many of the charges brought against journalists in Uganda have been initiated to intimidate the media and prevent them from carrying out their rightful role.
We respectfully ask your government to engage with the media in a civil manner and to respect the rule of law.
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Africa Free Media Trust
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Comité por la Libre Expresión - C-Libre
Committee to Protect Journalists
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Institute of Mass Information
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa
National Union of Somali Journalists
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
Reporters Without Borders
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee