A recent report by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has highlighted that journalists and media practitioners are the most affected when it comes to threats against freedom of expression. The study, conducted from August 2022 to August this year, demonstrates that 61 percent of those facing such threats were journalists. This finding underscores the challenges faced by journalists in various regions, especially in Northern Uganda.
Mr. Alfred Oryem, the project coordinator at Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC), explained that journalists in the area often find themselves in the crosshairs due to their coverage of sensitive topics such as land disputes, human rights violations, corruption, politics, and security issues.
The ACME report further breaks down the victims of freedom of expression threats. It reveals that 21 percent of victims were politicians, while activists made up 9 percent of the total. Ordinary citizens and medical interns accounted for 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively, of the incidents recorded.
The report, released on September 20 in Gulu City, reveals that 103 individuals were intentionally arrested or detained during this period to stifle their ability to express themselves. Among those detained, politicians constituted the largest group at 33 individuals, followed by activists at 25, and journalists at 20.
Additional categories of arrests and detentions included medical interns (15) and ordinary citizens (10). The report highlights that 24 people suffered injuries during these incidents, with the majority being journalists (21), while three politicians also sustained injuries. The victims were primarily male, making up 81 percent of the total incidents, with women comprising the remaining 19 percent.
Mr. Brian Ssenabulya, a research and media monitoring assistant at ACME, emphasized that the study aimed to combat impunity by identifying and holding accountable those responsible for violating freedom of expression.
Ssenabulya revealed that police were the leading perpetrators, accounting for 30 cases or 53 percent of the incidents, followed by other state security agencies, unidentified individuals, political party members, lawyers, media managers, media owners, and central government officials.
He explained, “Out of the 30 cases involving police, 11 targeted journalists or media practitioners, another 11 were against politicians or political figures, four targeted activists, and two incidents involved ordinary citizens, while two more affected medical interns.”
Mr. Alfred Oryem from NUMEC reiterated that journalists in the region are particularly vulnerable due to their coverage of sensitive subjects like land disputes, human rights violations, corruption, politics, and security.
Oryem also noted that journalists in the area often face intimidation and violence from various quarters, including security forces, local authorities, politicians, businessmen, cultural leaders, and armed groups. In 2022 alone, NUMEC recorded 32 instances of violations against journalists in Northern Uganda. These violations ranged from physical attacks, arrests, and detentions to threats, harassment, censorship, equipment confiscation, and denial of access to information.
In response to the safety challenges confronting journalists in the region, NUMEC established a safety desk in April 2022. This desk collaborates with other stakeholders such as the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U), ACME, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the police, and the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to enhance the safety and protection of journalists.