Astor Award 2015

The Human Rights Network for Journalists of Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) has been awarded the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) Astor Award for its outstanding work in protecting the freedom of journalists in Uganda.

The prestigious award is one of the oldest press freedom awards in the world. It was established in honour of longstanding President of the CPU David Astor, and first presented in 1970. This year’s Award was presented by the Chairman of the CPU Media Trust, Lord Black of Brentwood, at a Conference on the future of journalism organised by the Commonwealth Journalists Association in London on Monday 11th April.

Ugandan journalists and media face constant struggles not only for their freedoms but for their safety. Murder, kidnap, and politically-motivated or police brutality of journalists, as well as detention, censorship, criminal defamation, assault and destruction of equipment have persisted for decades and continue to this day.

As well as providing legal assistance to journalists the HRNJ-Uganda also educates journalists about human rights, and conducts seminars to raise journalistic standards, reduce risk and promote good governance.

Lord Black presented the award to distinguished Ugandan journalist Henry Gombya on behalf of HNRJ-Uganda, before explaining why the Astor Award had been awarded. Lord Black said:

It was into an atmosphere of constant menace that the Human Rights Network for Journalists for Uganda was born in 2006, the ‘new kid on the block’ in the ceaseless battle for freedom of expression.

Ten years on, the threats remain and could worsen, following this year’s disputed presidential election. But the landscape has changed. Journalists still face oppression, but they do not stand alone. HRNJ-Uganda, under the leadership of their national co-ordinator Robert Ssempala and legal officer Diana Nandudu, are forever by their side – often literally and at personal risk, monitoring journalistic human rights and protecting them from abuse. When police beat up a broadcaster, Ssempala led the protest march – and was himself arrested. When journalists are detained without cause, HRNJ is on the spot with legal advice. One grateful reporter fresh from the cells advised colleagues never to be without the phone numbers of ‘the good men and women of HRNJ-Uganda.’ When HRNJ activists are not on the frontline, they are educating the media on human rights and conducting seminars to raise journalistic standards, reduce risk and promote good governance.

The battle for freedom of expression is far from won in Uganda, but the dedicated work of HRNJ has helped sustain the will to win against fearsome odds. To succeed as such an indispensable and unflinching friend of press freedom is in the finest tradition of the CPU Astor Awards. It is that triumph which makes the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda so deserving of this accolade, and I am delighted to honour them this evening.”

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