Entebbe, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Human Rights Network for Journalists -Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) has today castigated individuals who commit acts of aggression against journalists, saying it is an affront to press freedom.
In its statement to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day, HRNJ notes that despite the critical role journalists are playing in the fight against the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), there are “increasing levels of impunity for crimes against journalists.”
Robert Ssempala, the HRNJ National Coordinator says, “to this end, we demand those in authority to exercise restraint and observe the rights of journalists and reprimand the perpetrators. Any acts of aggression against journalists is an affront to press freedom.”
He further explains that HRNJ-Uganda has documented at least 14 cases of arrests, assaults, detentions, and confiscation of gadgets from journalists while in line of duty during this period of lockdown and curfew in the country.
“We continue to demand that these affected journalists access justice,” he says.
Some of the journalists who were allegedly assaulted include Uganda Radio Network Kitgum District Buerau, Chief Julius Ocungi and Dalton Iga of Bukedde TV.
In March, while covering the implementation of the presidential directive to close bars in Kitgum, Ocungi was alleged assaulted by police officers attached to Kitgum Central Police Station. As a result, Ocungi sustained injures.
On April 1st, Iga, Bukedde TV correspondent in Mukono district was alleged attacked by the Local Defence Unit (LDU) while sending a report to the newsroom on people’s response to the curfew in Mukono District. The LDU personnel attacked him even after he presented his work ID Card. Iga reportedly lost lost Uganda shillings 70,000 and his phone.
Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also noted that journalists in Kenya and Nigeria have been assaulted by security officers during the near-total lockdown in the fight against COVID-19. As a result, both HRNJ and CPJ join the rest of the world to condemn violations against journalists and efforts to suppress press freedom globally.
The organisations also urge journalists to take precautionary measures during the pandemic. This comes days after the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) noted that many journalists are at risk of falling ill from the virus as they report about the pandemic. About 230,000 people have died out of the 3.2 million infected with the virus globally.
From its records, since March 1st, 55 media workers across 23 countries have died from the virus, though PEC says it is not clear whether they got infected on the job. However, the most hit countries were Ecuador where 9 journalists died from the virus, then the US (8), Brazil (4) and Spain and Britain with three each.
World Press Freedom Day was launched in May 3rd, 1993 to recognize the role of the press and media in general in providing information among others.
This year’s theme, “Journalism Without Fear or Favour” aims at celebrating journalists who are at the forefront of reporting about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UN Secretary General, António Guterres has thereby called upon governments and stakeholders to provide greater protection of journalists because they are the “antidote” to what he has termed the “the second wave of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 crisis.” He says the media is crucial in helping people make informed decisions.