Nairobi, December 23, 2020 — Ugandan authorities should ensure that members of the press can freely cover the country’s national elections on January 14, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On December 10, the Media Council of Uganda, a statutory body, said that local and foreign journalists would be barred from covering electoral events if they failed to properly register with that body, and directed all foreign journalists in the country to renew their accreditations within a week, as CPJ documented at the time. On December 21, the council issued a statement giving a December 30 deadline for registration, and threatened criminal sanctions for non-compliance.
“Ugandan authorities’ excessive and arduous accreditation rules lay bare their disregard for the role of the press in democratic processes,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Officials must abandon efforts to use accreditations as a pretext to restrict coverage of the elections, and should withdraw their threats of criminal sanctions against the media and ensure that journalists can do their jobs safely.”
Compliance with the Media Council’s accreditation requirements will be a prerequisite for journalists to get additional permits to report from polling stations and tallying centers, according to a December 15 statement by Uganda’s Electoral Commission and Paul Bukenya, a spokesperson for that commission, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
In a statement shared via messaging app, the board of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa, a regional body representing journalists contributing to international media, told CPJ they were not aware of any of their members receiving accreditation to travel to Uganda to cover the elections.
The board’s statement said that authorities’ requirement that foreign journalists possess an Interpol certificate as part of the accreditation process “would make it practically impossible for international press to travel to Uganda to cover the elections” as the document was not available outside of Uganda.
In a phone call this afternoon, Media Council chairperson Paul Ekochu claimed that foreign journalists were no longer required to have such a certificate. When CPJ reviewed the accreditation application this morning, it still had that requirement; when CPJ reviewed it following the call with Ekochu, a new accreditation form had been posted, which dropped the requirement. CPJ called and texted Ekochu for additional comment but he did not respond.