US Report: Uganda harassed journalists, persecuted opposition

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A report released by the US Department of State Report on Human Rights Violations in Uganda in 2015, accuses government of harassing journalists and hunting down members of the opposition for arrest.

“The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted these rights,” the report says in parts.

It says security forces and government officials occasionally interrogated and detained radio presenters and political leaders who made public statements critical of the government and used slander laws and national security as grounds to restrict freedom of speech.

“The Uganda Police Force’s Media Crimes Unit closely monitored all radio, television, and print media, and security forces subjected numerous journalists to harassment, intimidation, and arrest.”

There were private rural radio stations, but government officials and ruling party members owned many of them and imposed reporting restrictions, it claims.

“Security forces assaulted, harassed, and intimidated journalists. Police arbitrarily arrested and detained journalists.”

According to the report, to avoid government intimidation or harassment, many print and broadcast journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when reporting on the president or his family, senior members of the ruling NRM party, security forces, or the exploration and use of oil resources.

Many rural radio stations claimed unnamed government officials ordered them to deny broadcast time to opposition politicians, and police questioned several radio hosts for having opposition members on their shows.

Media activists reported authorities censored footage, especially of protests or demonstrations.

The African Center for Media Excellence stated that self-censorship by editors and journalists was rampant, largely due to fear that negative stories about the government and large corporations could adversely affect their advertising revenue.

“Authorities used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials. The Human Rights Network for Journalists reported that eight journalists faced defamation cases as of November.”

While the constitution provides for freedoms of assembly and association, the government did not respect these rights, according to the report.

The 2013 Public Order Management Act places a significant bureaucratic burden on those wishing to organize or host gatherings and grants the UPF authority to prevent gatherings.

Opposition and civil society activists reported the UPF routinely denied permission on technicalities.

In many instances the UPF gave no official response to requests to hold public meetings, instructed applicants not to assemble, or dispersed meetings after permission was granted.

Police used their legal powers of “preventive arrest”–which allow police to remove and detain persons to prevent them from committing an offense–to harass opposition leaders.

Police preventively arrested several opposition leaders during attempts to hold meetings and processions and later released them.

On several occasions police confined opposition leaders to their residences to prevent them from participating in events.

“Police often used excessive force to disperse protests and public rallies or arrest opposition activists. Police regularly arrested persons, most often opposition youth, for unlawful assembly.”

While the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the report claims government did not always respect this right.

It says the ruling NRM party operated without restriction, regularly holding rallies and conducting political activities.

Authorities often restricted the activities of the main opposition parties by refusing them permission to hold public demonstrations and preventing opposition leaders from being interviewed on local radio stations.

“Police used tear gas to disperse rallies of opposition leaders and arrested youth activists belonging to opposition groups.”

While the 2009 Anticorruption Act provides criminal penalties for official corruption, including up to 12 years’ imprisonment upon conviction, the report says government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Government agencies responsible for combating corruption included the Inspectorate of Government, the DPP, the Anticorruption Division (ACD) of the High Court, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, the police Criminal Investigation Division, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Directorate for Ethics and Integrity.

“These agencies lacked the political will to combat corruption at the highest levels of government, and many corruption cases remained pending for years.”

In March, the auditor general released the annual report for the fiscal year ending June 2014.

The report revealed government departments increasingly lacked financial discipline, leading to loss of funds or failure to account for funds.

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