A report in Uganda shows journalists there face a difficult present and uncertain future. Activists say while abuses and human rights violations against journalists decreased slightly last year, the media space remains hostile.
The Human Rights Network for Journalists documented 94 cases of rights violations and abuses against Ugandan journalists and media practitioners in 2022. The reported cases involved assault, unlawful arrests and detention, denial of information, and sexual harassment of female journalists.
The 2022 Press Freedom report, released Tuesday, says the Ugandan media is dealing with “an increased deterioration of democracy and the rule of law that has made it very difficult for journalists and media practitioners to thrive.”
Robert Sempala, the national coordinator of the Human Rights Network for Journalists in Uganda, said many journalists practice self-censorship due to the fear of being arrested or harassed.
“And that to us really speaks to the uncertainty that is looming around the media. And that is extremely dangerous. Because, it is better to know what to expect as opposed to not knowing it. Like, for instance, when one general says they will go for you and nobody will be able to protect you. That certainly is a looming threat around all journalists,” Sempala said.
To demonstrate the hostility, the report’s cover page has a photo of a presidential guard kicking journalist Lawrence Kitatta.
Speaking to VOA, Kitatta recalled that the day after the incident a local newspaper, The Daily Monitor, published his photo on page one.
That, he said, was when his life took a turn for the worse.
Kitatta, who then worked for a government newspaper, said the paper’s leaders vowed to defend him until they got threats from security forces telling them to drop the matter.
It was worse for Kitatta who, at the time, was assigned to cover activities of the opposition National Unity Platform party led by singer Bobi Wine.
“The bad thing, it happened when I was covering the opposition political activities. I think they wanted to punish me for what I was doing. Which was my job,” Kitatta said. “There’s a fear. I am not comfortable, whether I am safe. I don’t know what may happen. I move disguising myself, camouflaging to see that I look different. I can’t do my job.”
Police did not respond to requests for comment on the report.
The report cites the Ugandan police force for the 14th year in a row as the leading violator of press freedoms in Uganda.
But Steven Basaliza, a member of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, said the commission recently revived quarterly meetings with heads of different security agencies to ensure no mistakes are made when the forces interact with ordinary citizens.
The report calls on security agencies to discipline and hold accountable employees who are accused of violating journalists’ rights.
The report also calls on the government to lift a ban on Facebook that was imposed in 2021.