Keep the People Uninformed: Ugandan Pre-election Threats to Free Expression and Association
The Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday, January 11, that Ugandan journalists and rights activists are facing intimidation from authorities ahead of presidential polls next month.
More than 170 journalists, activists, members of political parties, government officials and witnesses to specific events across Uganda were interviewed for the report.
The 48-page report, Keep the People Uninformed: Pre-Election Threats to Free Expression and Association in Uganda, documents how journalists and activists are facing increased threats as the elections loom.
“Fair elections require a level playing field in which all candidates can freely campaign and voters can make informed decisions,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“How can Uganda hold fair elections if the media and independent groups can’t criticize the ruling party or government leaders without fear?”
“I think government intends to keep the people uninformed,” one journalist told Human Rights Watch. “You see, uninformed people are easy to manipulate. Cases of intimidation are prevalent…. As journalists, we are forced to cover up. In the reporting you don’t hit the nail on top. You have to communicate carefully. In election season we see this very clearly.”
The government and ruling party officials are threatening the two groups in an effort to limit criticism of the government.
Radio journalists, especially those working in local languages, whose listeners are mostly based in the rural areas are the most affected.
According to the report, journalists have been suspended under government pressure, and radio stations threatened for hosting opposition members or government critics.
Journalists in the country have said that the government’s response to political reporting is having a “chilling effect” on their coverage and analysis of political news and is preventing voters from receiving information.
Organisations working on human rights, including voter education, have faced visits from police and closure of their public meetings.
“What happens here is that organisations are in a state of self-censorship.They know things are wrong but people don’t want to get onto bad terms with government…. They are afraid to question things,” one activist said.
Seven opposition candidates are vying to end President Yoweri Museveni’s 30-year rule, including
Dr. Kizza Besigye , who has previously challenged Museveni in the last three elections and is running on the ticket of the Forum for Democratic Change party (FDC).
Museveni’s longtime ally and former prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, has left the ruling party, National Resistance Movement (NRM), and is running under his party, Go Forward.