The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum (WEF) have written a letter to President Museveni and Police boss Kale Kayihura over dwindling media freedoms in the country.
In a letter dated, December 4, WAN-IFRA and WEF who represent over 18,000 publications and 15,000 online sites in over 120 countries, are particularly concerned about the recent treatment of eight Red Pepper directors and editors over a November 20 story.
The story that alleged that Uganda President Yoweri with the help of his brother Gen Salim Saleh and security minister Lt.Gen Henry Tumukunde were plotting to overthrow Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.
The editors were arrested on November 21 and their offices closed and have since been charged with publication of information prejudicial to security, libel and offensive communication.
“If the government believes that the editors indeed committed a crime in publishing details of this story, then we respectfully remind the relevant authorities that the rule of law exists in Uganda and that due procedure therefore should have been followed.
Furthermore, detaining the eight at Nalufenya Police Detention Centre, a location used by the police to hold individuals suspected of capital offences such as terrorism and treason, would appear to serve no other purpose than to intimidate the Red Pepper staff.
Such actions risk unleashing a chilling effect throughout the media profession in Uganda”, letter in part the two-page letter signed by WAN-IFRA president Michael Golden and WEF president David Callaway.
Narrowing media space
“We take this opportunity to express our growing unease at the way media is being treated in Uganda. Editors from media houses such as Monitor Publications Ltd and Vision Group have recently been summoned to the Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Directorate regarding stories they have published.
Although they have not been officially charged in court, this trend of summoning and interrogating editors is likely to instil further concern among journalists across the country. Such actions will likely lead to an increase in self-censorship and an understandable reluctance to pursue future stories for fear of recrimination or legal harassment”, WAN-IFRA and WEF wrote.
In the interests of a free and democratic Uganda, we therefore call on your office to cease such methods of intimidation, to reprimand the tactics of intimidation deployed by the police, and to do everything in your power to show civic leadership in calling for greater respect for the profession of journalism.
Similarly, journalists under the Foreign Correspondents Association of Uganda (FCAU) have also condemned government’s move of arresting and harassing media practitioners with the aim of silencing them.
Speaking at the Uganda Press Photo Award (UPPA) book launch yesterday, Micheal O’Hagan, the co-chair of FCAU, described the attack as a move that undermine good journalism. He expressed that FCAU would continue to encourage, criticize and support the journalists and it stood in solidarity with the jailed journalists.
“Whether we like or disagree with the content the Red Pepper publishes, this attack on free press undermines the freedom of all journalists to report the facts. The government of Uganda must stop using arrests and prosecutions as a means of intimidating journalists,” cautioned O’Hagan at the evening event held at The Square in Kampala.
Further, O’Hagan urged journalists to always uphold strong journalistic standards and ethics and to always hold themselves to account when they fall short of best practices.
Explaining that it was through pictures that people get to know about the events, the FCAU co-chair thanked the shortlisted journalists whose works were showcased in the UPPA album for their great work.
Deborah Malac, the US ambassador, described the press attacks as troubling and disturbing and called on for action from everyone. She replicated her government’s message by maintaining that there was need to for an independent media because it is an essential element of strong democracy.
She observed that despite Uganda’s Constitution guarantying the freedom of the press, attack on the media continue with the most recent being the attack on Red Pepper for “simply for publishing an article.”
In circumstances where government believes false information has been published, she urged, it would be prudent if it thought other avenues like courts instead of arrests and harassments.
“Countries thrive when their citizens are well informed, and the citizens can only be well informed when there’s a professional independent media,” she said. Adding; “Tonight, we renew the call we have made to the government of Uganda to safe guard the freedom of the press.”
Malac further commended all journalists for their bravery to tell stories with the aim of ensuring that Ugandans get the information they deserve.
The UPPA album is a compilation of award winning works from photojournalists who have excelled and consists of works since 2012 when the photo accolade was launched. It features works from award winning journalists like The Observer’s Nicholas Bamulanzeeki, and Daily Monitor’s Abubaker Lubowa, among others.