By Kateregga Muhammad
Uganda’s implementation of dusk till dawn curfew as part of its COVID-19 measures sees a surge in attacks on journalists despite them being classified as essential workers, according to Reporters without Boarders’ report.
“Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the repeated attacks against journalists by police enforcing a night-time curfew imposed in Uganda to combat a surge in Covid-19 cases. The authorities must not use lockdown measures to restrict press freedom,” RSF says.
Patrick Bukenya, a journalist with privately-owned Radio Mityana FM 98.0, was returning home on the evening of 1 August when a police officer stopped him and punched him in the face for violating the 7 pm to 5:30 am curfew.
This was the fourth time in the past six weeks that this has happened to a journalist although media personnel are regarded as essential workers in Uganda and are therefore allowed to work after 7 pm.
Scovin Iceta, a reporter for NTV Uganda and the Daily Monitor newspaper, was taking photos of police using force to disperse people after the start of the curfew on the evening of 30 July when police officers attacked him as well although he was wearing a vest identifying him as a journalist.
The two other journalists who have been attacked in similar circumstances in connection with their curfew coverage in recent weeks are Radio Elgon FM’s Sam Welikhe, in the southeastern city of Mbale, and Radio Ankole’s Arinaitwe Emmanuel Kajungu in the southwestern region of Ankole.
“These attacks against journalists amid a pandemic surge in Uganda are alarming,” RSF spokesperson Pauline Adès-Mével said. “There is no justification for such treatment by the police. These press freedom violations run counter to official directives allowing journalists to work during curfew hours. We urge the authorities to not regard the media as their enemy and not use lockdown measures as a pretext to mistreat reporters and restrict the freedom to inform.”
Since the pandemic spread to Africa, where more than 6 million people have been infected and 170,000 have died from the virus, RSF has registered 129 press freedom violations in sub-Saharan Africa, including arrests and attacks against journalists and sanctions on media outlets. With a total of 16 press freedom violations, including 13 attacks against journalists, Uganda has been the region’s biggest offender, with the police responsible for most of the violations.
Uganda has fallen 28 places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index since 2015 and is now ranked 125th out of 180 countries.