On the eve of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) is appalled and hereby condemns increasing impunity for crimes against journalists in Uganda by security forces. The most recent violations took place between Tuesday, October 22, 2019, and Friday, October 25, 2019, when journalists who were covering and reporting on the peaceful demonstrations against hiking of tuition by students of Makerere University.
It has been reported that Godfrey Twesigye of NTV, Alex Esagala Nation Media Group and Stephen Mbidde NTV among others were performing their duty covering exchanges between students and the military, were attacked by soldiers, physically injuring them and traumatizing them emotionally.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression is provided for by key International Instruments including but not limited to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Huan and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). International laws and standards require states to prevent, prohibit and address crimes against journalists.
The obligation of states to protect press freedom and journalists’ safety has been affirmed in UN Human Rights Council Resolution 33/2 which sets out in detail the actions states should take to tackle impunity and safeguard journalists as well as the UN General Assembly Resolution 68/163 on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity which called on the Member States.
However, impunity for crimes against journalists remains one of the most serious threats to free expression and journalists’ safety in Uganda. Impunity creates a cycle which steadily erodes freedom of expression. Where journalists can be attacked and silenced with impunity, it emboldens other perpetrators to commit similar attacks, and intimidate journalists into silence.
Attacks on journalists by Ugandan security forces is not new. In October 2018, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions together with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right of freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association brought to the attention of the Government of Uganda their deep concerns regarding attacks against journalists by military forces. Those mentioned included Mr. Julius Bakabaage from NBS TV, Mr. Alfred Ochwo from The Observer, Mr. Juma Kiirya from NTV and Mr. Moses Mulondo from New Vision. In the breach, the Government has not responded to the communication.
The Special Rapporteurs asked the Government to provide details and where available the results of any investigations and judicial or other inquiries undertaken in relation to the attacks against journalists and indicate measures that have been taken to ensure that journalists and other media workers are able to carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment without fear of threats or acts of intimidation, harassments and prosecution of any sort. To date, the Government has not come out clearly to ensure the journalists enjoy the protection of their rights.
Democracy and rule of law depend on the ability of journalists to speak truth to power, investigate abuses, contribute to and strengthen public debate, and provide people with accurate information on the world around them. Impunity for abuses which seek to silence journalists is a global threat to freedom of expression and open societies, and one that persists year over year with little improvement.
As we celebrate November 2, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, AFIC calls on the Government of Uganda to:
- Publicly condemn any form of intimidation, attacks, abuse or unlawful acts against journalists by security or other forces. Publicly affirm that security agents are legally obliged to protect the right to peaceful assembly, expression, and demonstration.
- Immediately and effectively investigate the conduct of the security agents and their use of excessive force, including identifying the offences, including offences targeted against journalists and hold them personally and severally liable. The government and the leadership of the government security agencies should make the findings of the investigation, including the officers implicated public.
- Hold the security officers implicated in using excessive force and abusive response to journalists accountable through administrative and criminal sanctions and penalties.
- Prioritize establishing a zero-tolerance policy on the interference of journalists’ work by government security agencies.
- Conduct regular training with government security agents to build their capacity on how to effectively utilize non-violent responses as opposed to using excessive force, how to protect the rights of journalists, and how to particularly and effectively handle journalists and protect their rights.
- Respond to all communications regarding violations of press freedom by treaty bodies and procedures
AFIC remains committed to protecting citizens’ fundamental human rights; advancing freedom of expression, access to information through advocacy and public engagement.
Africa Freedom of Information Centre