Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the government’s intimidation of the media in the run-up to the 18 February presidential election. What with threats, arrests, media closures and seizure of equipment, covering the election is becoming almost impossible for news media that do not kowtow to the ruling party.
In the latest incident, a BBC crew was held for four hours at a police station in the northern town of Abim on 6 February after filming a public hospital from the road. The police arrested Catherine Byaruhanga, the BBC’s Uganda correspondent, cameraman Kelvin Brown and Sam Lawino, a local journalist acting as their fixer, after they refused to comply with orders to delete their video footage. The local police commissioner told RSF that they did not have the permits needed to film public health installations, and that they had posed as health ministry employees. They were released thanks to the personal intervention of Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, who was alerted by several journalists. The hospital was the subject of controversy a few months ago when an opposition presidential candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye, visited it with journalists. Interviewees criticized its dilapidated state and a nurse claimed that she had not seen a doctor at the hospital for the past six years. Nation Television (NTV) was the target of an angry verbal attack by President Yoweri Museveni after broadcasting its report about Dr. Besigye’s hospital visit, which led to an order by the health ministry and the electoral commission banning all visits to public health installations by presidential candidates. “Arrests and intimidation attempts of this kind are completely unacceptable in a country that claims to be democratic,” said Reporters Without Borders. “What happened to the BBC crew is just one example among dozens of cases of threats and intimidation of Ugandan journalists, which have increased since the start of the election campaign. We urge the authorities to end this campaign of media control and intimidation so that the entire Ugandan people can have transparent and peaceful elections.” Arrests and intimidation of this kind were already common, but they have intensified since the election campaign got under way in November 2015. According to Robert Sempala of the Human Rights Network for Journalists, more than 40 journalists have been arrested, beaten, prevented from working or deprived of their equipment by police since October. Human Rights Watch has published a report in 2016 detailing the violations endured by journalists, leading to a "chilling effect" for all media in the country, according to the human rights organisation. Uganda is ranked 97th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Picture : Catherine Byaruhanga © BBC