Government should stop criminalizing free expression and speech

Kampala, 14th, Jan, 2013; Human Rights Network for Journalists –Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is dismayed by government`s efforts to criminalize free expression under the guise of enforcing the law against incitement of violence and control of political and media indiscipline. We have noticed several actions and statements made by government officials that are intended to hold freedom of expression hostage. We have also noticed in the early days of 2013 a steady orchestrated and systematic clamp down of critical voices by state agencies.

HRNJ-Uganda notes that having a divergent view from that of government and expressing it openly is becoming risky, notwithstanding that government has a constitutional obligation to respect, fulfill and protect the rights of all Ugandans who want to express themselves irrespective of where they come from or which party they belong to. This duty must be performed fully without discrimination.

Article 20 (2) of the 1995 Constitution states that the rights and freedoms of the individual and groups enshrined in the Chapter IV of the Constitution shall be respected, upheld and promoted by all organs and agencies of Government and by all persons.

HRNJ-Uganda has also learnt that journalists particularly those hosting political talk –shows and their producers are under pressure from their supervisors not to give platform to members of parliament and individuals with views divergent from government. These actors are currently facing threats of closure or suspension of licenses of their media houses by government. It is now becoming criminal to host or provide a platform to those considered “anti, rebel or indiscipline” politicians with divergent views. Similarly, it has become “unlawful” to express your dissent view/ opinion in any form and to speak about matters of governance.

For example; on 7th January police arrested Arthur Larok, Country Director, Action Aid and Leonard Okello an independent activist for distributing anti graft newsletters that had catalogued cases of corruption since 2000.
Samuel Balaba Magala of Heart FM was on Thursday 10th January was summoned and interrogated by Mubende police for allegedly hosting Lwemiyaga County Member of Parliament, Theodore Ssekikubo. Magala was interrogated for over two hours by the head political crimes at Mubende Police station Juma Geoffrey on orders from CID headquarters in Kibuli – Kampala.

The director Hits FM in Fort Portal, Hon Nulu Byamukama has decided to suspend two talk shows Orukurato and Ekitanganzo ” because that’s what the government wants. We are not talking politics anymore.” Byamukama told HRNJ-Uganda early January. He said he was first told to adjust the content of the talk shows and broadcast government developmental projects instead of airing controversial political issues.

On Thursday 10th, the Buganda Kingdom Central Broadcasting Services (CBS) radio suspended hosting critical members of Parliaments Betty Nambooze Bakirekke (Mukono North-DP) and Nsereko Mohammed (Kampala Central –NRM) on a popular political show ‘Kkiriza oba ggaana’ on the orders of the state. “I received a call just two hours to the programme stopping me from attending the show, they said that the situation was still tense in the country, so they couldn’t host people like me. The pressure is mounting by the day on all free media; I don’t know if any other media house would accept to host me.” Nambooze told HRNJ-Uganda.

Both the ministers of Information and that in charge of the presidency were quoted in the local media issuing a stern warning against media houses considered errant that they face closure. They warned that media houses that do not operate professionally would have their licenses revoked. Mr. Frank Tumwebaze, the minister in-charge of the Presidency, was quoted in a local newspaper saying that the government was out to monitor and restore sanity within the media. “We are not seeing debate but insults. The media should not be part-and-parcel of political fights. We are trying to sanitize the media, not to curtail it,” Tumwebaze is quoted. While Ms Mary Karooro Okurut, the Minister for Information, is quoted to have said that government would revoke licenses of media houses that did not act within the law, “….the media houses must act within the law, if they act outside it, their licenses will be withdrawn.”

HRNJ-UG Admin

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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