The working environment for journalists based in Uganda is increasingly becoming riskier day by day. Hardly do we complete fortnight without receiving a registering an attack on journalists especially those practicing upcountry. If it is not some officers in the Uganda Police Force beating up journalists going about their business it is the rogue elements in society attacking journalists. Most of the harassment to Uganda’s journalists comes from security circles that work for government who have sometimes of accused journalists of being too critical of government activities.
Surprisingly those in positions of authority seem to be doing very little or nothing to protect the rights of journalists to execute their duties. In the latest case, on 20 May, four journalists based in Mukono town, which is just 21km from Kampala City, were attacked by a group of “worshippers” from a church of a self-proclaimed born-again Pastor Samuel Landasa of Mount Lebanon Church.
The journalists, who included Kalumba Ronald of WBS television, Paddy Nsobya of Bukedde Newspaper (Vision Group of Companies), Makumbi Joseph of the Red Pepper and Bbuule Moses Kizito of Bukedde radio, were attacked when they approached Pastor Landasa’s church to verify allegations that he had banished some critical members from the church when they accused him of illegally conducting church marriages and changing the church land title into his name.
Instead of responding to the journalists’ queries the Pastor allegedly mobilized a group of at least 10 youths from his church and set them against the journalists. Police arrested most of the youths who assaulted the journalists and has questioned Pastor Landasa over the incident.
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda (HRNJ-U), one of the organizations that defends the journalists rights condemned the attack and has dispersed its lawyers to help the assaulted journalists take up the matter in courts of law. “We want the perpetrators to face the law and also compensate the journalists if it is established that their gadgets were damaged” said HRNJ-Uganda lawyer Catherine Anite.
Security personnel and individual brutal attacks directed to journalists especially in the wake of opposition led protests have raised worries that public space in the country is shrinking. Earlier this year, Reporters Without Borders, an international media rights advocacy organization, released its press freedom index showing Uganda having fallen 43 places to land at 139th out of 179 countries surveyed.
The fall is explained in the sour relationship with the police and other security personnel as the press covered the walk-to-work protests for the bigger part of last year. According to HRNJ-U some 107 attacks on journalists were reported and the police was the leading attacker.
Attacks on journalists were sometimes physical, arrests, detention, shootings, denial to access news conferences, confiscation, of equipment including deleting pictures or recordings, defective and trumped up charges, and verbal threats. But police have always denied they target journalists. Even civilian perpetrators they arraign in courts hardly get convicted.
By Mubatsi Asinja Habati