Uganda's government says journalists reporting on the activities of the opposition FDC party will lose their licenses and could be subject to arrest. Tensions have been high in Uganda since the February 18th presidential poll, which saw President Yoweri Museveni elected to a fifth term in office.
Thursday was supposed to be a day of protest for the FDC officials and supporters who are demanding an independent audit of the results of the February presidential poll.
However, heavy police presence kept people off the streets. Opposition leader and presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye, remains under house arrest.
The inspector general of police and the information minister held a press conference Thursday to announce that the media is banned from covering what the government is calling the FDC’s “defiance campaign.”
They said journalists are prohibited from airing live broadcasts of FDC events, covering their press conferences or inviting FDC members on talk shows.
Robert Ssempala, the national coordinator with the Human Rights Networks for Journalists in Uganda, said this is a worrying sign.
“The profession is very clear about balancing our stories about giving a fair platform to those in power and those outside of power that have alternative views," he said. "This is what the media is all about. So now you're de-toothing the media only to crusade for the government and government policies? That is not what the media is supposed to do.”
The government says it must preserve stability and security, but Ssempala says advocacy groups are considering challenging the media restrictions in court.
“We've seen journalists being arrested before even without this ban," he said. "So it's just going to be a continuation of a further crackdown. We certainly think they will devise any means to scare the media to intimidate the journalists and harass those who are strong willed.”
Social media has not been shut down as it was during the vote in February, but an official with the Uganda Communications Commission says it will be monitored for those promoting the FDC.
Last week, Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma banned all FDC activities for one month. These included the FDC's weekly prayers which on Tuesday were interrupted by police, who arrested several participants.