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Uganda’s Continued Attempts to Gag the Media

On Press Freedom Day, Authorities Should Commit to Supporting Free Expression

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni address journalists in Kiruhura district, west of the capital Kampala, Thursday Feb. 18, 2016. © 2019 AP Photo/Stephen Wandera

This week, the director of Uganda’s media regulatory authority, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), directed thirteen radio and television stations, including a Kampala-based television station to suspend their staff after they aired news reports covering opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine. The move is the latest attempt by Ugandan authorities to stifle independent media in the country.

The Nile Broadcasting Services (NBS) had aired live footage the day before of police violently arresting Kyagulanyi and others as they traveled to host an Easter concert at a privately-owned beach in Kampala. In its letter to NBS, the UCC claims the station misrepresented information, incited the public, and gave “undue prominence to certain individuals” for its reporting on the arrests. Kyagulanyi has since been released and arrested again but is now out on bail.

This UCC directive is part of a recent spike in long-running government crackdowns on media coverage of opposition parliamentarians in Uganda. In the past month, police switched off three radio stations in Kabale, Jinja, and Mubende as they hosted prominent opposition leader Kizza Besigye. Radio stations in northern Uganda have said they have been warned against hosting opposition members on their stations. Authorities said that Besigye was in breach of Uganda’s problematic Public Order Management Act, which gives police wide discretion to permit or cancel public meetings, and has been used to arrest peaceful protestors and block opposition rallies. The law was also the basis for Kyagulanyi’s most recent arrest for protesting a social media tax introduced last year.

As the world gears up to celebrate World Press Freedom Day on May 3, authorities have made it clear that it does not want the Ugandan media to cover opposing views. The government should end its efforts to curtail free expression in Uganda and support media freedom across the country.

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