The Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ-U) has Tuesday released the 2018 Press Freedom Index, again ranking the Uganda Police Force as the leading abuser of media rights for the 10th year.
The report findings depict a general escalation in abuses and violations against media workers. And perpetrators according to the report include the Police Force, members of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) with elements of the elite team of the Special Forces Command and individuals and mobs within communities.
The others are media managers, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and other unidentified perpetrators.
The launch of the report was presided over by the U.S Embassy- Kampala Public Affairs Officer, Ronald E. Hawkins.
The HRNJ National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala revealed that the Press Freedom Index (PFI) documented a total of 163 cases of violations and abuses during 2018.
“The Police are for the tenth year running, the leading offender of media rights. Out of the 163 cases the police was responsible for 87 violations representing 53 percent of all documented cases in 2018,” Ssempala noted.
The report revealed that the percentage of women journalists who suffered abuses and violations stands at 19, that is 12 percent for the third year running, indicating that women have not backed off frontline activities despite the physical attacks targeted at them.
Findings further reveal that three quarters of the women journalists suffered violations at the hands of State agents, who include the Police, Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) and other security operatives.
Unlike in the 2017 Index, UPDF has this time featured as being behind violation of media freedoms. The cases involved regular UPDF soldiers, Military Police, Kabaka’s Royal Guards and the Special Forces Command (SFC).
The four Units of the UPDF accounted for 28 violations against the press with SFC having the most cases notably during the Arua chaos in August of 2018.
Seven incidents of media rights violations were attributed to RDCs.
The report has recommended that Police undertakes transparent and public disciplinary proceedings against Police officers who violate freedoms and rights of journalists especially during field operations.
“The Police should also undertake robust and expeditious investigation of cases reported by journalists where they are attacked in line of duty to facilitate prompt prosecution of the alleged perpetrators; the police leadership should train its forces to ensure the safety of journalists covering various news events especially political activities.”
Ssempala has also called on the Commanders of the UPDF to ensure soldiers deployed to support Police operations conduct themselves in ways that respect journalists’ rights as well as undertaking investigations into allegations by the journalists of Military brutality.
He says culprits should be held to account publicly or else reports detailing the action taken be availed.
While commenting on the report findings, the Kampala Metropolitan Police Spokesperson, SP Patrick Onyango noted that Police take the report findings in good faith and will work to improve.
“I am glad the report points out that although we violate the rights, we have been trying officers who violate rights of journalists. We have maintained that violation of rights isn’t an institutional policy. When an individual officer violates anyone’s rights, he is punished,” Onyango said.
Onyango appreciated the recommendation by HRNJ for a joint training with journalists and Police officers were the DOs and DONTs especially during riots and demonstrations can be discussed and adopted.