Government officials in Uganda, including President Yoweri Museveni, have, over the past weeks, intensified attacks on journalists and the media working in the country.
The most recent incident was one in which the Chairperson of Kabale District, located in the Western region of Uganda, Keihwa Patrick Besigye, allegedly stormed the studio of Voice of Kigezi radio on June 25, 2018 and assaulted a journalist, amidst threats to get him sacked from his job, for daring to break a story which he (Keihwa) felt could be injurious to his reputation.
According to a member of the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) in Uganda, Human Rights Network of Journalists (HRNJ-U), the journalist, Arinitwe Emmanuel, had covered a Council meeting at which the Chairman was taken to task over the embezzlement by the district engineer of funds meant for road construction. The journalist subsequently prepared his report and was about to break the news when Keihwa burst into the studio to assault him. The Council Chairman is also a shareholder of the company that broadcasts as Voice of Kigezi.
Samuel Amanya, one of the journalists who witnessed the assault, told HRNJ-Uganda that Keihwa insulted Arinitwe in vulgar words and slapped him a couple of times, before threatening to have him sacked from his job.
The attack on Arinitwe comes a few weeks after President Museveni on June 14, 2018, hurled insults at some media outlets in the country, calling them “evil” and “stupid”, amidst threats. In his address to government officials and members of Parliament during a presentation of the 2018/2019 budget, Museveni singled out the Daily Monitor, Uganda’s most influential newspaper, and threatened to “do something about it” if its journalists continued to criticise the country’s growing debt. The paper has been critical of the country’s debt, which it projected would take up to 94 years to be repaid.
In another worrying incident, President Museveni and the Secretary-General of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), Justine Kasule Lumumba, had on June 11, publicly declared ‘war’ against traditional and new media, accusing them of propelling inflammatory reportage against the president and the party.
Speaking at the funeral rites of former legislator of the Arua Municipality, Ibrahim Abiriga, the NRM Secretary-General told the President that there was an ongoing hate campaign against him and members of the party on social media. She further accused Ugandans of misusing their computers.
”Your Excellency this business of liberalising; the peace is being abused, and there must be a control measure to stop some of these things ” Lumumba was quoted in an NTV report.
The President, in his address, backed Ms Lumumba, saying there was the need to control “the noisemakers on radio and social media.”
Apart from shutting down social media on two occasions in 2016, the Museveni-led government has over the past years waged war against traditional and social media, with the recent being a move by government to tax social media users.
AFEX denounces the actions of the local council chairman against Arinitwe and urges the police in the region to expeditiously investigate the incident and take appropriate measures against Keihwa.
It becomes worrying when state actors, including the head of state, who are supposed to guarantee respect for citizens’ rights, tend to be the very ones abusing such rights.
Journalists and media practitioners in Uganda have continued to face violations such as arbitrary arrests and detention, intimidation, physical attacks and violence in their line of work, and such activities of state actors will further threaten their safety and lead to self-censorship.