Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine has condemned in the strongest terms, the continuing attacks on journalists and media freedom in Uganda by the security forces.
Police on Tuesday turned their wrath on journalists covering a press conference of the medical interns and senior house officers (SHOs) and sprayed them with pepper spray indiscriminately.
Among the injured were Thomas Kitimbo, a video journalist working for NBS television and Francis Isano, the photographer.
In the news briefing, medics were protesting against the delayed deployment of medical interns to training facilities and the delayed salaries for senior house officers.
During the scuffle, a police officer identified as Ogwal with badge number 49563 turned around and pepper sprayed journalists who had put on press jackets and holding cameras and had identity cards.
Many members of the media have condemned the act of the police and called for the reprimand of the officer with immediate effect.
In a statement, Kyagulanyi who is the leader of the National Unity Platform (NUP) said Museveni “dictatorship” will target anyone it considers a threat to its interests.
“At the end of the day, oppression does not spare anyone no matter how insulated they might appear to be. The Museveni dictatorship will target anyone it considers a threat to its interests, and that includes journalists who routinely expose its excesses,” he said.
Kyagulanyi called upon all Ugandans including the media to collectively rise up and to challenge Museveni’s regime.
Kitimbo questioned the motive behind such police action, saying ” Someone can’t be in the line of duty, holding the camera and you come and spray directly in the eye. What have I done?”
Isaano who was very upset with the police said, “Mr. Ogwal, you hurt me, you hurt my eyes up to now, but God will judge you where I will not be and you will remember this day.”
The 2022 global press freedom index released by the Reporters Without Borders indicates that Uganda’s press freedom index has continued to backslide, with the country dropping to 132 out of 180.
This drop is seven steps down compared to the 2021 index where the country was ranked 125 out of 180 countries.
While press freedom in all the countries in the East African Community (EAC) improved, it is only in Uganda where the situation worsened for journalists.
Apart from Kenya and Burundi, the report describes the situation in the rest of the EAC countries as difficult for press freedom.
The report indicated that journalists in Uganda face intimidation and violence nearly on a daily basis and that they are regularly targeted by the security operatives.
The country has more than 200 radio stations and some 30 television networks, many of them belonging to members or supporters of the National Resistance Movement, the ruling party.
The report also indicates that President Museveni does not tolerate criticism and regularly indulges in hateful commentary against the press.
Although enshrined under Articles 29 and 41 of the Ugandan Constitution, repeated violation of press freedoms, profoundly by security forces, has raised questions over what appears to be a crisis of legitimacy.
By 2022, the East African nation of more than 44 million people had nosedived seven places as practitioners in Uganda’s fourth pillar of democracy continued to be threatened with a record overt and covert forms of repression from State actors.
The nation’s status of independent journalism falls far away from Reporters Without Borders’s description of free press.
They define media freedom as “the effective possibility for journalists, as individuals and as groups, to select, produce and disseminate news and information in the public interest, independently from political, economic, legal and social interference, and without threats to their physical and mental safety.