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Press freedom under pressure

World notes worsening situation in Uganda, cites Stella Nyanzi saga

The constant attacks on journalists by security operatives have seen Uganda drop 10 places in the just released 2017 World Press Freedom Index. Uganda stands at 112, down from the 102nd position it occupied last year with a global score of 35.94. The attacks on journalists shot up before and after the 2016 presidential election.  The World Press Freedom Index is a system for rating the freedom of journalists and media in the world where 180 countries were surveyed.

Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the publishers of the survey said in a statement about Uganda “Acts of intimidation and violence against journalists are an almost daily occurrence in Uganda. The 2016 presidential election saw serious media freedom violations, including threats to close down media outlets, Internet cuts, and verbal and physical attacks on reporters, especially those covering the opposition leader.”

It adds that “many journalists who do not toe the government line have been suspended, stripped of their equipment, or badly beaten by ruling party members or security agents.”

On its website, Reporters Without Borders says it was “appalled” by the kidnapping and beating of a TV journalist due to her coverage of an incident where a university academic Stella Nyanzi criticised Education Minister Janet Museveni who is also President Museveni’s wife.

EAC region doing poorly

The East African region is doing badly on press freedom, only Tanzania and Kenya fare better than Uganda. Tanzania ranks at 83, and Kenya comes in at 95. South Sudan stands at 145 while Rwanda and Burundi, which have been at loggerheads in recent years follow each other at 159 and 160.

Tanzania, the best performing country in the region has a global score of 30.65 and RWB says despite the enthusiasm ushered in the country by President John Magufuli, attacks on journalists have not relented.

RWB says of Tanzania “Abuses against journalists and media outlets – including suspensions and closures, threats, attacks, and arrests – are frequent, especially during elections. The climate has not improved since John Magufuli’s election as president in 2015. Nicknamed the “Bulldozer,” he tolerates no criticism of himself or his program.”

The organisation also faults Tanzania for bulldozing the media by enacting laws such as the Cyber Security Act, the Media Services Act, and the Statistics Act, that make it hard for media and journalists to publish news in a free and far manner. The country fell by 12 places from the position of 12 it had last year.

Kenya’s security challenges have contributed to its shrinking media freedoms in recent years according to RWB. Incessant attacks by Al Shabaab have been used by the Kenyan government to gag media. It notes that a number of journalists have been arrested as the country prepares for a highly competitive election where Jubilee’s stranglehold on power under Uhuru Kenyatta is being tested. Kenya maintained its position from last year on the global press freedom index at 95.

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