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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Uganda

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Uganda, February 1998, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Since coming to power in 1986, President Yoweri Museveni has been credited with ushering in peace, economic reform, and a fledgling democracy. In the northern region of the country, however, a rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army has been fighting Museveni in a 10-year war that has left the area unstable and underdeveloped. On the western front, Museveni is now paying a heavy price for having aided Laurent Kabila in his military campaign to overthrow Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. A Ugandan group called the Alliance of Democratic Forces has teamed up with former Rwandan and Zairean soldiers to attack Ugandan towns near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In the midst of this instability, the press has emerged as one of the strongest underpinnings of civil society in Uganda, openly expressing divergent views in a country which prohibits political parties and organized dissent. Although the 1995 constitution contains fairly liberal provisions governing freedom of expression and the press, the country has draconian statutes governing the media, some of which, such as the law on sedition, were modeled on colonial-era laws. When the state chooses to enforce these laws, journalists are arrested, detained, charged, and released after paying colossal amounts in bail. Heavy fines in defamation suits – usually brought by politicians and government officials – have caused a number of newspapers to suspend publication or go bankrupt. Most newspapers resort to self-censorship.

In June, the Uganda Journalists Safety Committee (UJSC), a press freedom watchdog organization, filed two petitions in the Constitutional Court challenging the constitutionality of two controversial press laws-the sedition and criminal libel sections of the penal code, which have historically been used to intimidate, arrest, and detain journalists; and the repressive Press and Journalists Law of 1995, which requires strict licensing procedures. In December, the court dismissed the UJSC's petition.

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