The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is deeply concerned by the actions of police on Monday 20th May 2013 when it cordoned off and searched the premises of The Monitor Publications in Namuwongo, Kampala and The Red pepper Newspaper in Namanve. The sealing off of the Monitor premises was spontaneously followed by the inaccessibility of airwaves of the 93.3 KFM and Dembe radios housed in the said premises.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission is constitutionally mandated to update the public on the state of human rights in the country and to offer guidance to the Government and the general public on emerging human rights issues. As a national human rights institution therefore, the UHRC is disturbed and strongly condemns the recent events that are in its view are a threat to the enjoyment of media freedoms in Uganda.
Enjoyment of freedom of the press in Uganda
Whereas the Uganda Human Rights Commission recognizes that enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression in Uganda is backed by a clearly laid down legal framework contained in human rights instruments at the international, regional and national level, the media the world over and particularly in Uganda continues to face challenges in its work especially in exercising the right to freedom of expression without hindrance. At the national level the right is found in the 1995 Constitution of Uganda in Article 29(1) (a); and it is also backed by other media laws in Uganda including the
Press and Journalist Act 1995; the Electronic Media Act, 1996; the Access to Information Act, 2005 and the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002; Regulation of the Interception of Communications Act, 2010 and Penal Code Act, 1950. However, like all the other rights, the right to freedom of expression is not an absolute right and is subject to limitations contained in recognized human rights instruments at the international, regional and national levels.
A free, independent and vibrant media is indispensible in any democratic society. The freedom of the press is part of a wider fundamental freedom of speech and expression which underpins all other human rights and democratic freedoms. As such, the right to receive and impart information and ideas as a freedom of expression is important for media practitioners to freely express their views without intimidation, violence, censorship or fear of prosecution. We recognize that in the enjoyment of this freedom the media has a social responsibility to report responsibly and is expected not to violate other people’s human rights, morality and safety.
The Commission recognizes the unique ability that the media has in shaping public perception and also the fact that the media plays a similar role to that of the Commission in as far as being a watchdog on the promotion and protection of human rights and it is therefore a platform for advancing democracy, good governance, human rights, transparency, development and accountability in Uganda. It plays a fundamental role in informing and educating the public about issues that affect them so as to enable them to take informed decisions on all governance issues in the country. Press freedoms therefore are the cornerstone in deepening democracy, promoting good governance, defending the rule of law as well as protecting the fundamental human rights and freedoms and we should guard them jealously.
Human rights concerns on closure of media houses
The recent closure of media houses therefore raises a number of human rights concerns to the Uganda Human Rights Commission which include the following:
1. The Act of closing the media houses amounted to a denial of information to the public and as such a violation of freedom of press contrary to Article 29(1)(a) of the Constitution and the right to seek, receive and impart information.
2. The Commission further notes that the method of operation and manner in which the media houses were cordoned off breach the fundamental principle of the inalienable right to a fair hearing.
3. The move by police to compel the journalists to reveal their source of information is in contravention of their professional ethical standards.
4. We also note that the action of cordoning off of these media houses for the third day running to date which has disrupted and denied the affected media houses the ability to engage in normal daily business activities which has regrettably led to economic losses for these companies and their staff.
In view of the above concerns, the Uganda Human Rights Commission hereby makes the following recommendations.
1. UHRC urges Government to observe and uphold its duties to respect protect and fulfill the media freedoms.
2. We urge the police to exercise restraint at all times and strictly abide by the provisions of the court order.
3. We urge Police to expeditiously complete the search exercise so as to allow normality to return in the media houses.
4. Media practitioners are encouraged to perform their duties professionally and to act within the confines of the law while maintaining the highest standard of ethical conduct and to refrain from publishing news that has the potential to excite and inflame rather than inform.
5. There is also need for Parliament and all stakeholders in the protection and promotion of human rights to review all media laws to assess their compliance with international human rights standards in order to implement law reforms that would improve the media regulatory environment and to expedite the process of expunging from the law books all press laws that have been nullified by the Courts of law.
In conclusion therefore, the Uganda Human Rights Commission will continue to raise issues of concern in the area of human rights and reiterate our call to government to uphold its duty to respect, to protect and fulfill the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and in particular freedom of the press by creating a conducive environment for all players to exercise this and other rights without hindrances.
Commissioner Stephen Basaliza
For: Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission
Issued on Wednesday 22nd May 2013