By Julius Odeke
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) condemns the government’s continued unlawful siege and closure of the four media houses.
The media houses that include The Daily Monitor Publications Limited (MPL), KFM, Dembe FM located in Namuwongo and the Red Pepper located at Namanve, which were arbitrarily closed down on May 20.
They were all closed through the coercive forces of police and the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) under the pretext of searching for a controversial letter authored by Gen David Sejusa the coordinator of security services in Uganda.
This is in total defiance of a court order issued mid-last week which cancelled the one used by the government to take over these media outlets. Court recalled the search warrant on grounds that the government abused it when it went ahead to close down two radios after declaring its premises a ‘crime scene’ thereby stopping the victim media houses from conducting any work.
Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala who is the National coordinator for HRNJ-U says the continued closure of these media houses amounts to economic sabotage, gross impunity and contravention of the fundamental freedoms and rights enshrined in the Ugandan Constitution, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among others.
He says the state of Press freedom in Uganda continues to shrink despite of the fact that it is the State’s obligation to protect, uphold as well as promote it at all times. “The government has wrongly eroded media rights and freedoms in the name of national security in a deliberate show of mighty over and above reason.
To this effect, it has deliberately failed to appreciate that a free and independent press is essential to building a transparent and well-informed society capable of making timely and informed decisions,” added Wokulira.
He says this violates the constitutionally granted right to communicate, as well as the right to receive, impart and disseminate information.
HRNJ-Uganda therefore is giving the government an ultimatum of up to Wednesday to re-open the closed media houses; failure to heed to the court order which orders them to vacate the media houses in question within one day, HRNJ-Uganda has resolved to drag the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General to court for defying lawful orders likewise, if UCC does not switch on KFM and Dembe FM within one day, HRNJ-Uganda says it will do the same
HRNJ urged the government to take greater steps to protect and defend press freedom, and to hold individuals who violate this freedom accountable. The human rights activists have called upon all leaders and citizens to speak out for protection of journalists and to support their critical role in open societies saying, “These are very trying times for the media and the civil society organizations in Uganda.”
All journalists and right thinking members of society should therefore become stronger advocates for press freedom. The media activists have therefore announced that they will be camping at both NMG offices and Red Pepper in solidarity and witness the continued abused of the law with impunity from 9am to 5pm where all journalists and all stakeholders have been urged to join them at these places until media houses are re-opened.
Court set May 30 to hear an application by the Monitor Publications Limited to cancel a court order, compelling it to produce the original letter that was written by Gen. Sejusa. This application will be heard by Justice Benjamin Kabiito