Uganda: Crackdown on reporters threatens Ugandan election’s credibility

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a wave of attacks against journalists and media outlets in Uganda in recent days during an increasingly turbulent presidential election campaign. This major escalation in efforts to suppress the freedom to inform is liable to discredit the entire election, RSF warns.

Many journalists have been subjected to violence and acts of harassment during the campaign for the election in mid-January, in which Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president for the past 34 years and one of the world’s longest serving rulers, is seeking yet another term.

The victims include documentary filmmaker Moses Bwayo, who had to be hospitalized on 5 November when his right cheekbone was hit by a shot fired at almost point-blank range by a policemen as he was filming one of the main opposition candidates, Robert Kyagulanyi, a popular musician better known as Bobi Wine.

In a letter to the minister of ICT and national guidance, the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Uganda pointed out that Bwayo could easily have been blinded or even killed by the shot. In the same letter, the FCAU also deplored the very serious accusations made by Col. Paddy Ankunda, a military intelligence officer, who referred to international journalists as CIA agents in tweets that were later deleted.

Other journalists were attacked on 18 November while covering Wine’s arrest for allegedly violating coronavirus regulations. Radio One’s Saif-llah Ashraf Kasirye was pepper-sprayed and beaten while Sam Balikowa of City FM and Nile TV was arrested. Later that evening, goons threw a huge log at Daily Monitor news editor Yasiin Mugerwa ’s car as he was driving home. His newspaper belongs to one of Uganda’s leading independent press groups.

In all, RSF has tallied 17 press freedom violations in Uganda since the start of November, including seven attacks, four arbitrary arrests of journalists, and many cases of their being obstructed.

We firmly condemn the violence of the crackdown and the extremely brutal methods used to prevent journalists from covering the presidential election campaign,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “There can be no credible election if the media are being attacked on all sides. This policy is liable to discredit the coming poll. We urge the Ugandan authorities to end the violence, to protect journalists so that they can play their role as key observers of the electoral process, and to punish those responsible for the unacceptable acts of violence against them.

Uganda police spokesperson Fred Enanga has not responded to RSF’s calls and messages. RSF has also written to Judith Nabakooba, the minister of ICT and national guidance, asking her to publicly defend Uganda’s journalists and to ensure that those responsible for acts of serious violence against them are punished.

More than a dozen broadcast media were ordered to stop providing live coverage of police operations following Wine’s arrest in 2019 and a crackdown on those opposing a tax on social media.

Since the last presidential election in 2016, Uganda has fallen 23 places in RSF's World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 125th out of 180 countries.

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Updated on 25.11.2020