Don’t relent your freedoms (Demo)

Journalists and media practitioners should not surrender their rights by engaging in backdoor negotiations with their tormentors.

We should not relent on our freedoms, we should not go for back door settlements with our tormentors,” the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda national coordinator, Robert Ssempala said in May 2016 during a three day journalists training on human rights, the justice system and media ethics in Fort Portal. “We are not rallying journalists to revolt but to fight for their rights,” said Ssempala, the winner of the European Union Human Rights Defenders Award 2016.

The training organized by HRNJ-Uganda with the support of the Finish Embassy in Nairobi, according to Diana Nandudu the organization’s legal officer is intended to equip journalists with the basics of the criminal justice system in Uganda. It is further aimed at equipping journalist with the necessary skills to defend their rights and to interface with officials from justice, law and order sector and the Uganda Human Rights Commission. It is part of HRNJ-Uganda’s campaign of helping journalists understand the justice, law and order sector as well as human rights so that they report about it correctly and also defend their rights.

Ssempala said although the court process in Uganda is slow it is one way through which they can make their point rather than negotiating with the violators. Some participants wondered whether it was still possible to get justice from the courts of law arguing that the judiciary has been compromised by government.

Remain ethical in your work, don’t be partisan,” Sempala advised journalists.

The LC 5 Chairman, Kabarole District, Rwabuhinga Richard, appealed to journalists to promote peace in Rwenzori region by writing facts and desist from sensationalism. “Always cross check the information you have before you publish. Avoid using media to fight other peoples’ wars,” the chairperson urged journalists calling upon them to always have a human face. ”Think of what you publish about others whether you want it to be written about you before you publish,” he noted.   He thanked HRNJ-Uganda for organizing refresher courses for journalists because it reminds them of their obligations. He told journalists to interest themselves in reading.

James Nkuubi, a human rights lawyer from HURINET, told journalists that the police, judiciary and the media in Uganda are under siege and appealed to journalists to remain firm.

Hope Baguta Tuhairwe from the Uganda Human Rights Commission Rwenzori region office told journalists the mandate and roles of the Commission. She said they have carried out sensitization meetings on human rights in the community. However, a heated debate ensued when journalists accused the regional office of looking on as peoples’ rights are being trampled upon. They said the public is not even aware of what the Commission is doing and several cases reported have not been attended to.

Journalists advised UHRC Officer to liaise with them to spread the message of rights in the region. “In my district Kamwenge people don’t know about UHRC,” one journalist said adding that there is an information gap between the Commission and the public. “How do we know your mandate when you have not shared information with the people!” a journalist wondered.  But Hope said the Commission has done its best to reach out to the public but has also faced challenges. “We have carried out several sensitization meetings but unfortunately we live in a monetarized society, people want to be paid to teach them about their rights,” the UHRC official noted. She pledged that the UHRC regional office will work with the journalists in the region “because you are a good link between us and the public”.

Journalists accused the Commission’s officials of not talking to them whenever contacted claiming that they are not authorized to speak to the media.  “We are not allowed to interface with the journalists because the Chairperson is the spokesperson of the Commission,” Hope admitted to the accusation.

Nkuubi asked the journalists to probe further why officers at the regional offices cannot talk to media on matters of human rights to find if “they are not also under siege”.

The Police Public Relations Officer, Rwenzori Sub Region, ASP Tumushabe Lydia, told journalists that police condemns all the brutal acts against them and any officer who does it is liable as an individual. She said officers who harass journalists are reprimanded. But when asked to give specific examples she said “I don’t have the details”. She promised journalists of an improved relationship between police and journalists.

The judicial officer, Kwizera Vian, urged journalists to carry out their duties without harming others under the guise of freedom of speech. “Journalists should maintain the principles of integrity, fair and balance in their work. Don’t cover one part of the story and leave out the other,” Kwizera said. He called upon journalists to always forward their complaints to court for determination because court cannot move itself until someone comes out to complain.  

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