Government has bashed US Ambassador to Uganda, buy H.E Deborah Malac over her comments on censorship of the media which she referred to as “suffocation of freedom of expression and harassing those involved in the [Media] profession.”
In her speech on World Press Freedom Day, stomach Amb. Malac referred specifically to the arrest of Makerere Research fellow, find Dr. Stella Nyanzi whom she said is “a champion of freedom of speech.”
“Journalists allowed to speak with anyone at any time give a voice to every citizen, ensuring all views are heard and represented. These freedoms are the hallmarks of a developed country and a vibrant democracy,” said Malac.
“Dr Nyanzi’s case, however, shows that such constitutional rights and freedoms apparently have limits, particularly when those opinions are critical of the country’s leaders,” she added.
In a statement by government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo, government argues that “Nyanzi doesn’t qualify as a media person” and that her arrest “isn’t to suggest that her rights to free expression shouldn’t be respected within realms of Ugandan laws.”
Dr. Nyanzi was arrested and charged with a number of cases related to cyber bullying under the Computer Misuse Act 2011, among them, referring to President Museveni as a “Pair of Buttocks.”
She is currently detained at Luzira Prison where she has spent close to a month. She is also not allowed to read any literature except the Bible.
Opondo says that by focusing on Dr. Nyanzi in her remarks, “Ambassador Malac showed she has not bothered to understand the state of the media in Uganda.”
“Misuse of computer and internet is a crime in Uganda, as well as many jurisdictions around the world. Dr. Nyanzi is being tried before a gazzetted Court and all the due processes of the law are being followed,” wrote Opondo.
“Uganda has values and ethics that form and define our country which Ambassador Malac is at liberty to disagree with. These values were further formulated into laws by our Parliament and these need not be similar to those of the United States,” he added.
Opondo further stated that “though Uganda continues to uphold freedom of expression as guaranteed by our constitution, government shall apprehend and prosecute those involved in suspected criminal transgressions in all its forms.”
Ambassador Malac also criticized the recent ban on Media Houses from reporting on investigations into the murder of former Police spokesperson, AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi, persecution of KTN journalist Joy Doreen Biira and several raids on media houses.
“The offices of The Observer have been ransacked twice in the past year, threatening its ability to operate. A local journalist was kidnapped in broad daylight last month. One was charged with “abetting terrorism” for simply reporting on the events in Kasese last year,” Malac said.
“Despite what some officials may claim, these events are not fabrications. They are not cries for attention, or the result of personal disputes. These are real threats, putting real lives and livelihoods at risk. They undermine those constitutional rights to a free press and free expression. And they ultimately threaten Uganda’s development,” she added.
Opondo however maintains that “Uganda enjoys a great degree of media freedom and freedom of expression, and continues to build on earlier successes across all media and communication platforms.”
“We have over 300 radio stations, over 30 TV stations, over 20 print media and a vibrant social media. All these have no form of censorship and are free to criticize and expose government excesses of all kinds.”