Journalists have been on the receiving end of military brutality mainly for covering activities of politicians opposed to the government who are equally targeted.
On April 12, Human rights experts appointed by the United Nations called on the government of Uganda to immediately stop the brutal crackdown on its political opponents that begun in the lead-up to the disputed January general elections and continues to suppress opposition supporters.
“We are particularly alarmed by the reports of widespread and continued repression against opposition leaders and their supporters,” the experts said in a statement.
While condemning what they called “brutal policing methods” employed by the government, they instead urged the authorities to immediately and thoroughly investigate and prosecute all human rights violations.
On February 17, several journalists were admitted to hospital with serious injuries they sustained after military police assaulted them while covering opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) president, Robert Kyagulanyi who was delivering his petition to United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) offices in Kololo, Kampala.
Following the incident, the Chief of Defense Forces again apologised to the journalists, saying investigations will be done and the officers involved would be prosecuted individually.
But at the launch of the RSF report in Kampala, the American Ambassador to Uganda, Natalie Brown noted that since her arrival in the country at the end of October 2020, she had seen repeated incidents of harassment against Ugandan journalists who have been threatened, beaten, arrested, detained, had their credentials cancelled, and equipment confiscated or destroyed. She said journalists doing their work should not be a crime.
“To the reporters, editors, photographers, and cameramen in the room today: Thank you for what you do every day, under difficult circumstances, to keep us informed and to bring us closer to realising our democratic ideal,” she said.
She underscored the vital role that a free press plays in democracy.
“Journalists shine a light on not only the many challenges and cruelties that are all too common in our lives, but also on stories that inspire and sustain us, particularly in difficult times such as the past year,” she said.
She added: “Journalists give all of us the opportunity to know more about ourselves, our countries, our communities, our governments, and our shared world. Journalism gives voice to the voiceless, empowers citizens to engage in the life of their community, and exposes injustice. This makes us better. This makes us stronger”.
“Journalists promote transparency. They are fact finders. They are truth tellers. They inform the public on issues critical to their country’s future. They introduce new ideas and individuals working to change the world. And they can produce powerful stories that hold government, institutions, and influential individuals accountable.
“For all these reasons, journalists should be able to carry out their responsibilities without fear of violence or retribution. Because journalism is not a crime,” she said.
World Press Freedom Day
She said World Press Freedom Day on May 03 should be a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
“World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story,” she said.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme “Information as a Public Good” is designed to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism.
The 2021 Global Conference, hosted by UNESCO and the Government of Namibia, is taking place in Windhoek between April 29 and May 03. World Press Freedom Day has its origins in a UNESCO conference in Windhoek in 1991. The event ended on 3 May with the adoption of the landmark Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press. That declaration is marking its 30th anniversary.