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Governments should leave journalists alone

By Editorial | February 19th 2021

Harassment of journalists in Uganda is yet to end after President Yoweri Museveni’s administration stepped up its persecution of media actors.

Journalists, opposition leaders and citizens were subjected to harassment and torture by Uganda’s security agencies during the election campaign period last month. The security personnel were deployed, ostensibly, to ensure compliance to Covid-19 containment measures. After the polls, Museveni was declared winner, but opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi has gone to court to challenge that declaration.

The disdain Museveni’s administration has for journalists was extended to the United Nations' offices in Uganda on Wednesday this week. Journalists who had gone to cover Kyagulanyi’s delivery of his petition to the UN body were roughed up by police and soldiers at the UN premises.

There is no good reason for the Ugandan government, or any other government, to harass journalists going about their work. Freedom of the press and that of expression are not negotiable; they are constitutional rights that should be respected.

Yet to single out Uganda for violation of press freedom would be injudicious. Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya have on many occasions infringed on media freedom. A number of journalists in Kenya have been arrested, tortured and had their equipment confiscated by police or destroyed on flimsy grounds.

KTN journalist Duncan Khaemba, for instance, was arrested in August 2017 while covering protests in Kibera for, of all reasons, being in possession of a helmet. Yesterday, Belarus jailed two journalists whose only crime was to film demos against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The bottom line is that governments must respect and protect the right of journalists to gather and disseminate news.

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