Uganda’s general election takes place amid significant threats to independent media.

In the weeks leading up to the presidential and parliamentary elections in Uganda, journalists and media practitioners from independent media houses faced attacks by police while covering opposition activities. Many of the attacks specifically targeted those covering opposition candidates.

In November last year, Ugandan officials ordered a news crew from Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC, to be deported back to Canada. According to Margaret Evans, one of the deported CBC journalists, this came “despite holding official press credentials.” New guidelines have been created for foreign journalists seeking accreditation.

Now, only hours before the polls opened, the authorities have ordered a temporary, nationwide internet shutdown, a move that incumbent President Yoweri Museveni – who is seeking his sixth term in office – has defended. The internet block mirrors similar restrictions during the 2016 presidential election, and highlights attempts by the government to further clamp down on media freedom and freedom of expression.

The British High Commissioner to Uganda, Kate Airey, tweeted that she was concerned about “how the internet shutdown is impacting on the transparency of the elections” and called on Ugandan officials to resume services.

Despite the added challenge of covering an election amid a global pandemic, journalists continue to play a vital part in the democratic process by sourcing, processing, and providing fair and impartial information that enables citizens to make informed decisions about how they cast their vote.

It is critical that journalists are able to carry out this role freely and safely, enabling them to hold power and the integrity of the election to account. 

Header Image: Parliament of the Republic of Uganda, Kampala. Credit: M.Torres/istock