The continuous summoning of journalists, using criminal provisions is a violation of freedom of expression and media.
The Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) of Police has summoned the editor of Vision Group's English weekend titles, Felix Osike for questioning over a Saturday Vision story on the security of Police chief, Gen. Kale Kayihura.
The story said the security detail of the Police chief had been beefed up, as investigations by the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) continue into the conduct of several high ranking Police officers. The story further said Kayihura had changed his security detail and that army men had set up security check points within the area where Kayihura resided.
Kayihura issued a statement on Sunday saying he continues to be guarded by the Police, and that he hadn't changed his security detail.
"My neighbourhood is quiet, with free access as has always been. Even the ongoing repairs on part of the access road that passes my residence, initiated by members of the community, has not made it less accessible," the statement published in New Vision on Monday added.
The Police summon, signed by Isaac Oketcho, on behalf of the Director Criminal Investigations, states that the story was published with the "intent to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace, quiet, or right of privacy" of the Inspector General of Police.
The summon which was sent to New Vision at around mid-day required the editor to appear at the CID within a matter of hours, at 3pm. However, since the editor concerned was out of office, the Vision Group lawyer informed the CID that the editor would be in position to report on Tuesday.
This is not the first time New Vision editors have been summoned by CID for questioning over stories published in the newspaper.
In June this year, the CID summoned the editor of the Bukedde over an article titled "Ambassador atabudde ebya General Kayihura," which was published on June 14th. In August, CID summoned the editor of Kampala Sun over an article titled "Police arrest Malengelo gang that specialises in stealing at events, funerals."
Bukedde reported that Uganda's embassy in Turkey was not aware of Kayihura's visit to the country as had earlier been announced by the Police spokesperson Asan Kasingye.
In the recent past, CID have also summoned editors from other media houses over stories published in the papers.
Tony Kirabira, Vision Group's legal officer in charge of litigation decried the increase in summons against journalists.
"The continuous summoning of journalists, using criminal provisions is a violation of freedom of expression and media. This kind of information is protected under the constitution," he says.
Veteran journalist and media trainer John Baptist Wasswa says the summoning of editors is intended to intimidate journalists and that Police should use channels like the Media Centre to counter stories the force deems inaccurate.
"These summons are unfortunate, and they are not good for democracy. Even if a story is ‘false', you have to put it to test; you have to counter the story by putting out your own facts, not by intimidating journalists," he observed.
Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana, the founding Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative says the summons is just another indictment on lackluster media freedom in Uganda.
"The media in this country is not free. The state deploys several tactics to derail the media such as the recent banning of live coverage of parliamentary proceedings, the summoning of editors, directives to media houses to run some stories or not to host certain people," he says.
In the face of these threats, Sewanyana urges the media not to back down from informing the population on important developments.
"The media should constantly assert itself, through mechanisms such as seeking court redress when draconian rules are brought up."
Bernard Tabaire, the co-founder and director of programmes at the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) says whereas the summoning of journalists by the CID is not entirely new, the timing speaks volume.
"These summons are a subtle way of the state trying to leave editors second guessing on certain issues dominating public debate at the moment, so that they can self-censor before going to press with critical stories," he says.
Donald Rukare, the chief of party of Freedom House says there is nothing wrong with the Police summoning journalists per se-as long due process is followed.
"The Police are within their rights to summon journalists, but the key question is whether those summoned are accorded a fair hearing and other rights as stipulated in our laws. From a human rights' perspective, it is important that these safe-guards are observed."
The 1995 constitution of Uganda guarantees the freedom of speech and media. Article 29(1) of the constitution provides that "freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media."
In 2004 Charles Onyango Obbo and Andrew Mujuni Mwenda v Attorney-General ruling, court further strengthened the right to free speech and media, in a landmark ruling that essentially quashed the Penal Code provision that outlawed "publication of false news."