Uganda me­dia ‘in­tim­i­dated’ ahead of polls

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

KAM­PALA — Govern­ment in­tim­i­da­tion of jour­nal­ists and ac­tivists in Uganda is hav­ing a “chill­ing ef­fect” on free speech ahead of elec­tions next month, Hu­man Rights Watch said Mon­day.

Seven op­po­si­tion can­di­dates are vy­ing to end Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni’s 30-year rule in the 18 Fe­bru­ary 2015 poll, and there are fears vi­o­lence could mar the cam­paign, with all sides are ac­cus­ing each other of arm­ing mili­tias to press their claims to power.

“Jour­nal­ists have been sus­pended un­der govern­ment pres­sure, and ra­dio sta­tions threat­ened for host­ing op­po­si­tion mem­bers as guests or when pan­el­lists ex­pressed views crit­i­cal of the rul­ing party,” the Us-based rights group said in re­port re­leased Mon­day, “Keep the Peo­ple Un­in­formed.”

Mu­sev­eni, in power since 1986, will face his stiffest op­po­si­tion from Kizza Be­si­gye, a three-time loser for the Fo­rum for Demo­cratic Change (FDC), and Amama Mbabazi, a for­mer prime min­is­ter and rul­ing party stal­wart now run­ning for the new Go-for­ward party.

All eight can­di­dates are due to hold a live tele­vised de­bate on Jan­uary 15.

“Fair elec­tions re­quire a level play­ing field in which all can­di­dates can freely cam­paign and vot­ers can make in­formed de­ci­sions,” HRW’S Maria Bur­nett said.

“How can Uganda hold fair elec­tions if the me­dia and in­de­pen­dent groups can’t crit­i­cise the rul­ing party or govern­ment lead­ers with­out fear?”

Jour­nal­ists deemed crit­i­cal of the govern­ment have “re­ceived phone calls or vis­its from govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, threat­en­ing them with fir­ing or sus­pen­sion, and clo­sure of their me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions,” HRW said.

Mean­while, party rep­re­sen­ta­tives have also of­fered “money, trips, and train­ing, in ex­change for favourable cov­er­age of the rul­ing party,” the re­port added.

“Or­gan­i­sa­tions are in a state of self-cen­sor­ship,” one ac­tivist quoted by HRW said. “They know things are wrong but peo­ple don’t want to get onto bad terms with govern­ment... they are afraid to ques­tion things.”

At the head of the rul­ing Na­tional Re­sis­tance Move­ment (NRM) party, Mu­sev­eni is widely ex­pected to win an­other five-year term.

“Free­dom of ex­pres­sion and as­so­ci­a­tion are un­der se­ri­ous threat,” said the HRW re­port, based on 170 in­ter­views across Uganda.

“Political ten­sions are run­ning high and the govern­ment faces pub­lic dis­con­tent on a range of is­sues, such as govern­ment al­lo­ca­tion for health and education ser­vices, cor­rup­tion, wide­spread un­em­ploy­ment com­bined with a mas­sive youth pop­u­la­tion and the ris­ing cost of liv­ing.”

The govern­ment has ac­cused the op­po­si­tion of or­gan­is­ing mili­tia groups and warned of pos­si­ble vi­o­lence in the polls.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers have dis­missed the claims, and in turn have ac­cused se­cu­rity forces of back­ing the rul­ing NRM to ha­rass Mu­sev­eni’s ri­vals.

UGAN­DAN Pres­i­dent yow­eri Mu­sev­eni jogs af­ter his party nom­i­nated him as their can­di­date last year to show he is still en­er­getic de­spite his age.

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