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IFEX members protest police attacks on journalists

Police arrested HRNJ-Uganda's National Coordinator, Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, during protests about media closures in Uganda on 28 May.
Police arrested HRNJ-Uganda's National Coordinator, Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, during protests about media closures in Uganda on 28 May.

HRNJ-Uganda

The following is a joint letter addressed to Uganda's President Museveni, calling for an end to impunity in cases of police violence against the media. It was initiated by the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U), and has been signed by almost 30 IFEX members:

President Yoweri Museveni
State House
P. O. Box 25497
Kampala, Uganda

6 June 2013

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 on bail, having been charged with "incitement to violence."

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 is incumbent upon 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;

  • Drop charges of "incitement to violence" against journalists Mulindwa Mukasa and William Ntege; 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
    Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
    ARTICLE 19
    Bahrain Center for Human Rights
    Cambodian Center for Human Rights
    Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
    Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
    Committee to Protect Journalists
    Freedom House
    I'lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research
    Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
    Index on Censorship
    Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
    International Press Institute
    Journaliste en danger
    Media Foundation for West Africa
    Media Rights Agenda
    Media Watch
    National Union of Somali Journalists
    Pacific Islands News Association
    Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
    PEN American Center
    PEN Canada
    PEN International
    Reporters Without Borders
    West African Journalists Association
    World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
    World Press Freedom Committee
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