International lobby group, ARTICLE 19, says freedom of expression and information are increasingly under threat in Uganda.
Ugandans are as free to publicly express their opinions as is assumed, a new report says.
ARTICLE 19, an international freedom of expression and information lobby group, says Uganda’s restrictive legislation on the media, the failure of the government to implement access to information legislation and frequent attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents is a sign of repression in the country.
It says restrictive legislation regarding media and freedom of expression are often used by the Ugandan government to prosecute journalists, creating an environment where the media has to operate in an intimidating atmosphere. The main consequence of this is self-censorship by many journalists.
The report, yet to be submitted to and debated by government, says that the instances of infringement of the rights to expression and information these rights are frequent.
ARTICLE 19 points out that the Ugandan Penal Code contains a number of offences that unjustly restrict the freedom of expression. For instance, charges of criminal defamation can be brought against any alleged offender even if the person offender is dead.
The Penal Code also includes the offence of sectarianism. It prohibits acts in the form of printing, publishing, utterance or any other form that expose to contempt, create alienation, raise disaffection or promotes ill feeling among or against any group or body of persons on account of tribe or ethnicity. The report says these provisions are very vague and are therefore susceptible to an unreasonably wide interpretation by both authorities and those subject to the law.
Serious concerns are also raised in the submission regarding the numerous instances of violence against journalists, media workers and human rights defenders, the safety of LGBTI activists, as well as an ongoing trend of impunity for perpetrators of such violence. ARTICLE 19 calls for full implementation of the 2005 Access to Information Act, especially in areas such as health-care and environmental information.
ARTICLE 19 criticizes the recently approved Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010. It says the new law lacks adequate safeguards to ensure respect of a number of rights, including the freedom of expression.
The organization’s report says the broad and undefined basis for interception of communication also allow for possible intrusion into communications of individuals and professionals – such as journalists, human rights defenders and political dissidents engaged in legitimate activities and exercising their human rights.
Another contested law is the Draft Public Order Management Bill, 2009, that ARTICLE 19 says seeks to regulate the conduct of public gatherings, and grants the Inspector General of Police and the Minister of Internal Affairs wide discretionary and unjustifiable powers over the management of public meetings. It says this would affect the operation of civil society organizations, human rights defenders, academic and professional institutions.
ARTICLE 19 says it is also concerned about the numerous instances of violence against journalists, media workers and human rights defenders and the alleged ongoing trend of impunity for perpetrators of such violence. It points that intimidation and harassment, through summons, interrogations, raids to media houses, charges and outright threats by Police and Resident District Commissioners, increased especially after the 2009 Buganda riots.
Additionally, in the period of January to October 2010, more than 50 journalists were exposed to violence.
The Ministry of Information has declined to comment on the matter until ARTICLE 19 formally submits its report to government.
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