Tuesday, 28th May 2013
A CALL TO GOVERNMENT AND THE UGANDA POLICE FORCE TO RESPECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, ASSEMBLY AND THE RULE OF LAW
We the Citizens of Uganda, convened under the umbrella of various Civil Society actors hereby condemn the continued harassment of the electronic and print media by the Uganda Police Force among other state security agencies. We are increasingly concerned about the siege of The Monitor Publications LTD from 20th May 2013 to date by the police.
We are further perturbed by the arrest and incarceration of civil society human rights activists peacefully demonstrating in solidarity with the media in Kampala on the evening of Thursday, 23rd May 2013, clearly portrayed and cemented the Police as violators of human rights as has been on record. As if their unlawful siege of the Monitor and Red Pepper Publication and closure of Ddembe and KFM is not enough, they have disregarded court orders to vacate the Monitor premises
These actions on the part of the police are ultra vires to the principles and policies under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art.19), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art 19), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Art.9) which all provide for freedom of expression and access to information. The Declaration of principles on Freedom of expression in Africa under its preamble considers the key role of the media and other means of communication in ensuring full respect for freedom of expression, in promoting the free flow of information and ideas, in assisting people to make informed decisions and in facilitating and strengthening democracy.
Attacks such as the murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and threats to media practitioners and others exercising their right to freedom of expression, as well as the material destruction of communications facilities, undermines independent journalism, freedom of expression and the free flow of information to the public.
The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa in Principle XII clearly refutes restriction on the Freedom of expression on grounds of public order or national security unless there is a real risk of harm to a legitimate interest and there is a close causal link between the risk of harm and the expression. The Declaration includes the right to protection of sources of information unless there is an order by court after a full hearing where the source is needed for prosecution or defence in a serious offence, the information cannot be obtained elsewhere and the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to freedom of information.
The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995 we have held dear for the last 18 years as a guiding and supreme law of our land recognizes the right to enjoy and practice one’s profession. The profession under attack is the media fraternity which enjoins like all Ugandans the freedom of speech and expression through print and broadcast guaranteed under Article 29 (1) of the Constitution which provides for freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right within the bill of rights. This fundamental right may only be restricted under two instances, for respect of the rights or reputations of others and for the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals . The circumstances under which Daily Monitor Publications, K Fm Dembe Fm and Red Pepper Publications came to be closed and switched off air do not in any way constitute the exceptions above.
The constitution is premised inter alia on the principle of respect for human rights so as to avoid relapse into the practices past regimes. Unfortunately, the actions of the police in the past week suggest the contrary. Certain rights may not be absolute but their derogation must be only in a manner demonstrably justifiable and acceptable.
The Press and Journalist Act Cap 105 also provides for the protection against forceful disclosure except with the consent of the person who gave it or upon an order of court under S.38
IN VIEW OF THE ABOVE, WE CALL UPON GOVERMENT AND THE UGANDA POLICE FORCE TO;
1. Respect the constitutional right of freedom of expression, assembly and the rule of law.
2. The police should forthwith cease their unlawful siege of the Monitor and Red Pepper Publications, return all confiscated materials and equipment and punish all its officers who have acted ultra vires to the laws and court order.
3. We also reiterate that a search warrant does not entail closure and censure, it only warrants search of premises. The search must be done in the presence of the occupants of the premises. It does not in any way give powers to the Uganda police force to keep these media houses off air.
4. Continued closure of media houses after a court order which directs the police to vacate the premises is not only an abuse of court but rule of law and democracy in Uganda. The police have chosen to ignore their obligation under article 221 to respect and uphold human rights in carrying its obligations under the Police Act and the Constitution and chosen to be a regime police.
5. The continued action of seizure and closure of the media houses directly affects people’s rights of access to information contrary to the Constitution and the Access to Information Act of 2005 which should be protected.
6. Charges preferred against the human rights activists who were peacefully demonstrating in solidarity with the closed media houses should be dropped.
Chief Executive Officer
Human Rights Network –Uganda
Uganda National NGO Forum