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Thirty-four IFEX members urge President Museveni to respect press freedom in lead-up to general elections

(HRNJ-Uganda/CPJ/IFEX) - 15 February 2011 - IFEX members are concerned that journalists have been threatened and assaulted, opposition parties have been denied access to the media and draft legislation threatens to restrict the right to free speech and peaceful assembly:

H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
President of the Republic of Uganda
State House
P.O. Box 24594, Kampala
Fax: +256 414 256143
E-mail: secretary@op.go.ug

We, the undersigned freedom of expression organisations, are alarmed by the decreasing space for the voices of journalists and opposition parties during the run-up to the 18 February 2011 general elections in Uganda.

Violations of freedom of expression have plagued the electoral process in the country since November 2010 when campaigning officially began. Journalists have been threatened and assaulted, opposition parties have been denied access to the media and draft legislation threatens to restrict the right to free speech and peaceful assembly. We urgently call on the authorities to immediately investigate all attacks on journalists and media workers and we urge media houses to adhere to licensing obligations of providing equal opportunities to all election candidates and to respect freedom of expression.

At least 10 journalists have been assaulted in election-related incidents since November 2010, reports Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda). For example, journalist Michael Kakumirizi of "Red Pepper" was assaulted on 19 January 2011 by supporters of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), in Alebeatong. On 20 January, journalist Issa Aliga of NTV and editor Ssozi Ssekimpi of Top Radio Masaka were both assaulted by Sauda Namagwa, the Masaka district Member of Parliament.

Furthermore, on 17 December 2010 journalist Drake Kizito was beaten by supporters of Peter Claver Mutuluza, the NRM parliamentary candidate running in the Mawokoa North constituency. Most disturbing is the case of journalist Arafat Nzito of Radio Simba who was detained for a week, assaulted and then dumped in a suburb of Kampala by security agents. Nzito, who often reported news from the leading opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), went missing on 4 November 2010. Charges were never laid, and Nzito has yet to receive an explanation for his detention. All of these abuses were committed with impunity.

In addition to these assaults, journalists critical of the current government, or those who provide a platform for voices of opposition parties are facing censorship, threats and detention. Journalist James Kasirivu was suspended in December 2010 by the Mbarara-based Edigito Radio for reporting on an opinion poll that suggested a clear victory for the FDC presidential candidate Dr. Kiiza Besigye. Mustapha Mugisa and Samuel Ssejjaaka, respectively the chief executive officer and editor of the "Summit Business Review" magazine, were arrested on 11 January 2011 by security operatives and detained by police in relation to their publication of a cartoon image of President Museveni on the cover of the magazine.

Opposition candidates themselves are being silenced by private radio stations that are denying them the opportunity to be interviewed or to share their views, even when such spaces are paid for. FDC leader Dr. Besigye has faced numerous obstacles accessing the media. On 2 January 2011, he was turned away from appearing on Radio Kitara, Spice FM and Kings Radio; all three stations are owned by ruling party supporters. In Nakaseke district, Besigye paid for space on a community radio talk show, but found the station locked and surrounded by anti-riot police when he arrived.

These incidents demonstrate that media houses are not adhering to their licensing obligations that include providing an equal platform to all candidates and promoting freedom of expression. This also shows that the obligations are not being enforced by the Broadcasting Council, whose role it is to insure there is no political interference in the media.

Also problematic to freedom of expression and assembly is the draft 2009 Public Order Management Bill that is pending to be tabled in parliament. The intention of the Bill is to regulate the conduct of public gatherings, and grants the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Minister of Internal Affairs wide discretionary and unjustifiable powers over the management of public meetings, meaning that people wishing to hold public gatherings would have to seek permission from the IGP. If passed in its current form the implications of the Bill would be far reaching; it would impact the operation of civil society organisations, human rights defenders, academic and professional institutions. The bill violates a number of provisions of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda, notably the right to freedom of assembly and to demonstrate freely. It not only infringes on the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, but also those in the African Charter on Human & People's Rights, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We therefore demand that:

• the authorities immediately investigate the attacks on all journalists and that those found guilty of targeting the media are brought to justice without delay;
media houses adhere to licensing obligations of providing equal opportunities to all election candidates and their responsibilities of promoting the right to freedom of expression;
• the Broadcasting Council promptly investigate cases of abuse and political interference by media owners;
Members of Parliament vote against the proposed Public Order Management Bill, which in its current form has far-reaching negative implications for civil society and freedom of expression and assembly in Uganda.

Signed,


Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Committee to Protect Journalists
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
ARTICLE 19
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Comité por la Libre Expresión - C-Libre
Ethiopian Freepress Journalists' Association
Freedom House
Free Media Movement
Globe International
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Independent Journalism Center
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Institute of Mass Information
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
Maharat Foundation
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute
Media Institute of Southern Africa
National Press Association
Pacific Freedom Forum
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
Privacy International
Reporters Without Borders

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