"When we report these cases, Police always claims to be doing their work, saying journalists are not above the law."
Jeff Andrew Lule
Journalist @ New vision
"When we report these cases, Police always claims to be doing their work, saying journalists are not above the law."

KAMPALA - Local journalists have called on government to establish a special committee to investigate all abusers of media freedom.

They say continued threats and harassment of journalists instills fear among practitioners, thus failing to do their work appropriately.

The National Coordinator of the Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ), Robert Ssempala said culprits need to be brought to book and face the law individually.

"We registered 300 cases in just a space of two years. Most cases are committed by police personnel. Either there is total lack of appreciation of the role played by the media or there is a deliberate move to suffocate all voices of reason on purpose," he said.

He said this at a Universal Peer Review (UPR) dissemination meeting in Kampala at the end of last week.

"When we report these cases, Police always claims to be doing their work, saying journalists are not above the law," said Ssempala.

"We also demand that if a journalist commits an offence, they should be charged and taken to court instead of beating them, which at times leads to permanent disability or loss of life."

He said there is need for a special committee to investigate the perpetrators.

However, Ssempala said they have also resolved to address the matter through the United Nation under the UPR mechanism and processes to where Uganda will be reviewed this year.

"We want to make sure there is rule of law, where anyone suspected to have committed crime is given a due process of fairness to justice.  We have lost some journalists in the line of duty and no one has been prosecuted. Others die after or when going to work," he added.

As many as 18 journalists have been in court for over two years on charges of defamation, said the HRNJ coordinator. "We want this law scrapped. Some people use it as a cover not to be subject to public scrutiny, claiming their names have been abused before the right-thinking members of society."

The programme officer of International and Regional Human Rights Mechanisms at Human Rights Network-Uganda,  James Nkuubi, said UPR is a  platform for a country to account for its promotion and protection of human rights in their respective countries.

"We have come up with recommendations that we think are important for media freedom. We think it is a good platform for journalists to present their issues," he said.

He cited laws like the Public Order Management Act, Regulation of the Interception Communications Act, The Anti-Terrorism Act , and Communications  Act among others, which he said have particular sections that inhibit the media from doing their work with confidence.

"We want some of these laws amended to align with the Constitution especially Chapter (4) and the International Human Rights Laws that Uganda is party to."

Nkuubi said continued brutality and threats has greatly hindered investigative journalism because "many journalists and media houses fear what could be the next course of action".

John Baptist Waswa, a former journalist, said government must take on media development as their responsibility rather than making laws restricting media freedom.

The HRNJ board chairman, also doubling as the station manager Teso Broadcasting Services, Julius Esegu said harassment has caused fear, which has crippled journalists from telling the truth.

According to the 2015 report by HRNJ, a total of 143 cases were documented and over 100 journalists fell victim to police brutality.