The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that journalists in Uganda are being prevented from freely covering Parliament and campaigning for next month’s presidential elections. The government announced this week that journalists without a university qualification will be barred from covering parliament, according to local reports. Journalists have also reported being attacked and threatened while covering the election campaign.
“The entire democratic process is undermined if journalists are restricted whether through arbitrary regulations or physical violence from covering politicians,” said Sue Valentine, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator.
On Monday, the Parliamentary Commission sent a letter to news outlets that said journalists without university degrees would be barred from covering parliament as of May 2016, according to news reports. Chris Obore, the communication manager for parliament, defended the decision and was quoted in news reports as saying, “We want journalists with degrees because we believe they are the ones who can ably follow the debate in parliament and report appropriately to the public.” Several Ugandan journalists have protested over the change, reports said.
“Demanding that no one can enter the press gallery without a bachelor’s degree is tantamount to licensing for journalists,” Valentine said. “Legislators lose all legitimacy unless they operate under public scrutiny. We urge the Parliamentary Commission to overturn this ban.”
Several journalists have also reported being attacked this month.
“Security forces must respect the right of journalists to do their jobs and we urge all political parties to ensure their supporters allow the press to cover events without fear of harassment or intimidation,” Valentine added.
On Monday, Ali Golooba Lukuuba, a reporter for the privately owned Radio Buddu, based in Masaka, was beaten and had his equipment taken by security guards while covering a speech, he told CPJ. Lukuuba said he was recording a speech by local politician Hajji Muyanja Mbabaali, when he was surrounded by six security guards who asked why he was recording their candidate. The men then hit and kicked the journalist, and confiscated his equipment, reports said. According to Lukuuba, he told his attackers he was a journalist and showed his ID, but they ignored him. He said he has pain in his leg, back, and chest since the assault. Lukuuba has filed a complaint with police, according to the Human Rights Network for Journalists, a local rights organization.
On Sunday, George Obia, the Moroto district police commander, allegedly assaulted and threatened four reporters and destroyed the camera of a journalist with NTV, according to reports. Galiwango Ronald, of the privately owned station NTV; Kenneth Oryema, of the privately owned daily New Vision; Ernest Kyazze, from the privately owned daily Bukedde; and Julius Ariong, correspondent for the independent Daily Monitor in Moroto, were in Nadiket to report on a road block allegedly set up by police to prevent an opposition presidential candidate from reaching his supporters, according to news reports. Ariong told the Human Rights Network for Journalists that Obia threatened the journalists and ordered them to hand over a camera. The rights group reported that Obia admitted the altercation but denied responsibility for breaking a camera. He said the damage resulted from the journalists’ refusal to hand over equipment when asked. Police said the roadblock was set up because of an accident, not to prevent a candidate from reaching supporters, local reports said.
Earlier this month, CPJ documented the case of two editors from the privately owned daily Red Pepper and privately owned weekly Kamunye who were summoned by local police for questioning on January 7, and subsequently arrested and held overnight. Ben Byarabaha and Dickson Mubiru were released without charge the following day, reports said.
Other rights groups have also raised concerns ahead of the February 18 elections. On Sunday, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing threats and harassment of journalists and news outlets over their election coverage.a