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HRNJ-Uganda flags government failure to honour free expression commitments in advance of UPR

(HRNJ-Uganda-IFEX) - Kampala, 21 March 2011 - As the review of Uganda's human rights situation draws closer under the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) has submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council highlighting the non-compliance of the Ugandan government towards protecting, upholding and promoting the right to freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information.

HRNJ-Uganda is an organization of human rights journalists in Uganda whose primary activity is to defend press freedom, freedom of expression and information. HRNJ-Uganda's efforts and resources are devoted to: (i) Advocacy and Networking, (ii) Litigation, (iii) Capacity building and Outreach, (iv) Documentation and Research and (v) institutional development.

Uganda, which is a member of the UN Human Rights Council, is up for review of its human rights situation in October of this year, under the UPR mechanism.

HRNJ-Uganda is aware that Uganda has ratified a number of conventions and treaties that obligate it to protect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and access to information. These treaties and conventions set standards for all member states to adhere to the principles that facilitate the enjoyment of these human rights and freedoms, namely: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UHDR-Article 19), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-Article 19), the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (Article 5(d) (viii), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 13) and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (Article 6).

It is upon this basis that HRNJ-Uganda is seeking the intervention of the UN Human Rights Council.

The report to the UN Human Rights Council exposes, among other issues, laws that criminalise speech and hinder access to information, the deteriorating safety and security of journalists, the lack of independence of regulatory bodies, and the shrinking space within which journalists, political activists, human rights activists and government critics operate.

"Although the right to freely inform the public and to be informed is absolute, it remains limited in Uganda, especially on critical issues. The National Resistance Movement (NRM) government claims to observe this freedom, but in practice it does not. We have documented evidence which shows the government's violation of this freedom - especially to those who criticize public officers," said HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

Safety and Security of Journalists

The safety and security of journalists in Uganda remains frail with many being murdered, subjected to arbitrary arrests and torture, intimidation and harassment, among other untold sufferings at the hands of the authorities. According to HRNJ's press index report, there has been an increase in cases of violence against journalists: in 2009, 35 cases of violence were reported; in 2010, over 50 cases were reported.

On September 10, 2009, renowned journalist Kalundi Sserumaga was kidnapped by security operatives at night after attending a talk show on WBS TV. He was tortured at a clandestine center in Kireka. (ii) Arafat Nzito, of Simba FM 97.3, on November 3, 2010 was also kidnapped by security personnel and held incommunicado for eight days at Kololo, under the orders of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI). He was released upon filing a habeas corpus in court. (iii) Patrick Otim, who worked with government owned Mega FM, based in Gulu, was kidnapped from his residence in Pader and held incommunicado for six weeks in May, 2009. He was taken to court after filing a habeas corpus, charged with treason and concealment to treason and his case was transferred to the high court for trial. He continues to languish in prison without a court hearing.

The period under review has seen several journalists murdered with their killers still at large. They include:

- Wilbroad Kasujja, a journalist for Buwama community radio in the Mpigi district. She was raped and killed on her way to work.

- Paul Kiggundu, a reporter with the Masaka-based Top Radio, was murdered while on duty.

- Prime Radio news anchor Dickson Ssentongo was murdered on his way to work.

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