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February 14 2011

Uganda: Press Freedom Diminishing as Elections Near

Written by Mark Jordahl

Uganda walks a fine line when it comes to press freedom. At times, it is amazing the things that journalists are allowed to write or broadcast in criticism of the government. Then, suddenly, someone will cross that fine line and find himself or herself in jail, or worse. Many see a steady decline in press freedom in Uganda, particularly with the 2011 elections approaching.

International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) reported on two journalists beaten while covering a campaign rally in Lira in January:

Lira, 22/Jan/2011 - Michael Kakumirizi, a “Red Pepper” publications photojournalist, was mobbed by suspected supporters of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party while covering an opposition presidential candidate's campaign rally in the Lango sub-region.

Francis Tumwekwasize, a former WBS TV journalist now affiliated with the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) Press Unit, was also beaten. The IPC is a coalition of opposition political parties that nominated retired Colonel Dr. Kiiza Besigye as their candidate for the Ugandan presidency.

The journalists were roughed up by the suspected NRM supporters, who accused them of taking their pictures while they were allegedly bribing voters at the Aloi Police Post, in the newly created Alebeatong district, in an attempt to keep residents away from Dr. Kizza Besigye's 19 January rally in the area. When a camera flash went off, the NRM supporters realised that there were journalists among a group of residents they had called to the Aloi Police Post to receive money.

In a more recent release, Human Rights Watch and IFEX draw attention to 16 activists and journalists who have been arrested and harassed for spreading a petition asking the 330 Members of Parliament to return questionable payments of up to 20 million Ugandan shillings (about $9,000) they have received in the last two weeks from the ruling party to “monitor government programs.” Widely seen as a bribe, the money was released at a time when the Ugandan government has already spent 85% of its budget halfway through the fiscal year. About a quarter of the national budget was disbursed in January alone, the month before the elections.

Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ-Uganda) published a statement from the Pakistan Press Foundation condemning an attack by Special Force Guards on a television correspondent who filmed an altercation at a campaign venue:

Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), an independent non-governmental institution committed to promoting and defending freedom of expression, is concerned about the detention of Masaka based NTV Uganda correspondent Issa Aliga by the Special Forces Group (the bigger presidential protection unit SFG) for filming a scuffle involving Rwemiyaga area Member of Parliament Theodore Ssekikubo ahead of President Museveni’s campaign rally.

…While filming he was roughed up and man-handled by four Special Force Guards personnel who confiscated his camera. He was pushed here and there on accusation of filming an event without permission. He was taken to their bus and interrogated for some minutes. After interrogation, he was released and his pleas to get his camera back fail on deaf ears. He was then ordered to go through the usual security checks and attend a campaign rally like any other voters. His mobile phone was also switched off.

The Committee to Protect Journalists highlighted two incidents, in August and November of 2010, involving radio reporters being detained and harassed by the police:

On November 3, 2010, four armed men kidnapped Nzito, a 23-year old Radio Simba reporter who covered crime and occasionally opposition parties, and threw him into a pickup truck with tinted windows. “I spent 10 days locked in a dark room with my hands and legs handcuffed and remained on the floor. I was not given any real meals or food. The army men would come and scare me in the night,” he told CPJ. Assailants using the same truck eventually dumped Nzito outside the capital, Kampala, according to local journalists. His release came a day after HRNJ-Uganda filed a habeas corpus in court compelling the army commander, the attorney general, and the head of a security agency to produce the journalist. HRNJ-Uganda said its investigations determined that the journalist had been in the custody of Uganda's Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force.

Nzito told CPJ he frequently experiences nightmares now. “I have been dreaming about dark rooms, beatings and being held at gunpoint.”

Frank, a reporter with the U.S.-based online station Radio Free Buganda, suffered a similar misfortune in August 2010 after covering the 17th anniversary of the coronation of Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, the ruler of Uganda's most powerful traditional kingdom representing the Baganda, the country's largest ethnic group…

The government was not happy to hear that Radio Free Buganda was broadcasting the festivities. After the local newspapers Ggwanga and Buganda Post published stories about Frank's live broadcasts, he said he began to receive anonymous phone calls. Then, four men stormed Frank's home who took away his wireless Internet modem and computer. The next day, men Frank believed to be security agents detained him for six hours, seized his mobile phones, and pressed him to reveal whom he worked with and how much was paid. “I am scared for my life because all of my contacts were in my phones and other crucial information.”

It seems that the reductions in freedoms may also ripple out beyond the mainstream media outlets. According to AllVoices, Uganda's Assistant Inspector General of Police, Asan Kasingye, has announced that the police will be monitoring social media such as blogs, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter during the elections:

[Asan Kasingye] said that it is possible that hate messages and inflammatory statements could be exchanged on Facebook and Twitter and so the police are monitoring them to guard against riots.

Kasingye claims that during the 2009 Buganda riots, some social media were used to stir up the population and cause widespread unrest.

Kasingye doesn’t explain the extent of the monitoring or how it will guard against infringement on personal rights of expression and privacy.

This is the first election in which social media has played an important role.

Political parties and candidates used Facebook to fundraise for campaigns and the Internet to raise their profiles locally and internationally.

This increasing harassment of journalists in Uganda has the potential to greatly impact coverage in this election season, and closer monitoring by the police may make it hard for the voices of citizens to be heard through social media. A free press is one of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy, and as that pillar erodes, it will weaken every other aspect of this nation.

September 08 2010

Getting to Know the Global Voices Latin America Team

By Eduardo Avila

As outgoing Editor for Latin America, I have seen the Global Voices team from Latin America grow tremendously over the past three years. Each of the volunteer authors has dedicated time and energy to serve the mission of Global Voices, and to share their part of the world with a global audience. At any given time, each of the countries that make up the Latin American region has been represented by a talented blogger tasked with the challenge of presenting a wide range of issues in a balanced and fair manner. Now that I am moving on to take the helm at Rising Voices, I am eager to see how the team will take the coverage of such a diverse region to greater heights under the leadership of the new Latin America Editor, Silvia Viñas. Continuing a recent tradition, let's meet some of these amazing people that have been part of the Latin American team (in alphabetical order by first name).

Members of GV Latin America with friends from GV Portuguese and GV Caribbean. Photo by Suzanne Lehn

Andrea Arzaba [Mexico] - I don't think I've seen a single picture of Andrea in which she was not smiling. Her enthusiasm and friendliness is both sincere and contagious. Recently back in Mexico after spending a semester studying abroad in Spain, Andrea is very active in youth conferences and blogging competitions. She was recently chosen to represent the Think About It organization at the UN Summit to be held in New York City later this month. Read her blog One Lucky Life [es] and follow her on Twitter: @andrea_arzaba.

Belén Bogado [Paraguay] - Belén is quite the multimedia star in her native country of Paraguay. Not only is she an accomplished print journalist, but she has also hosted her own radio show and television program. In addition, she has brought special recognition to Paraguayan bloggers, including an introduction to the first blogger to write in the Guaraní language, who was featured in a GV post and which caught the eye of the local CNN affiliate.

Catalina Restrepo [Colombia] - Many of us have seen how much Catalina has grown over the past three years. She started as one of the participants of the Rising Voices' project HiperBarrio. Since then, she has really come into her own, gaining confidence by the day and asking for more challenges. In addition to being invited to speak at international conferences, she was also recognized at home when she was awarded the Talented Young Woman [es] prize in Medellín. Read her blog: Cosas del Alma [es] and follow her on Twitter: @catirestrepo

Felipe Cordero [Chile] - Felipe joined Global Voices in 2010, and his participation began shortly after the tragic earthquake struck his country of Chile. He was living in Columbia, Missouri at the time when he volunteered to help with the coverage, as way to draw more attention to the tragedy and reconstruction. His posts helped make the Special Coverage Page of the earthquake timely and diverse. Since graduating from college, Felipe has taken part in many interesting training programs and internships, including one at the Chilean Mission at the United Nations. Read his blog: Política Online [es] and follow him on Twitter: @felipe_cordero.

Gabriela García Calderón [Peru] - At the Global Voices Summit in Santiago, Chile, Gabriela received recognition for being the GV member with the most number of translations across all Lingua sites. With more than 2000 translations under her belt, Gabriela wanted to get involved with GV even more. So, she volunteered to become a GV author by focusing on some of the non-political facets of Peruvian society. Read her blog: Seis de Enero [es].

Issa Villarreal [Mexico] - To say that Issa is interested in the urban arts scene in her hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, would be an understatement. In her free time, Issa covers local concerts and music festivals [es] on her blog and other publications. In addition, she is a videographer, and one of her most recent works was filmed a local amusement park. Her three-part series exploring graffiti and urban art across Latin American stands among some of her most classic posts. She also covers other topics, including the #internetnecesario campaign, although I was unable to convince her to write a post on the Mexican delicacy of eyeball taco. Read her blog: Perdida en el Súper [es] and follow her on Twitter: @hiperkarma.

Members of GV Latin America meeting with GV Board Member Rosental Alves at the GV Summit in Santiago. Photo by Juliana Rincón and used under a Attribution 2.0 Generic CC license.

Jenny Cascante [Costa Rica] - Jenny is another of our authors that is active in her country in the arts and cultural scene. She has been a part of the super-stylish arts digital magazine De La Bimba [es]. Read her blog: Nube Número Nueve [es] and follow her on Twitter: @nubecina.

Jorge Gobbi [Argentina] - Buenos Aires is one of my favorite Latin American cities and most times that I've visited, I've managed to stop by to say hello to Jorge. I don't think I realized how well-known he is in the Argentine blogosphere until he was featured in the La Nación newspaper as one of 5 of the most important bloggers [es] in the country. Probably best known for his travel blogging, he won Best Travel Blog in Spanish awarded by Lonely Planet. Jorge is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in Social Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires. Read his blog: Blog de Viajes [es] and follow him on Twitter: @morrissey.

Juan Arellano [Peru] - Ever since Juan has taken on the leadership role for Global Voices in Spanish, the site has thrived. The roster of active translators that he has recruited makes it one of the most diverse and willing teams to bring GV content into the Spanish language. The partnerships and collaborations that he has pursued serves as a model for other Lingua sites. In addition to translating posts, Juan also makes sure that local issues in his native Peru makes it to the pages of Global Voices. Read his blog: Globalizado [es] and follow him on Twitter: @cyberjuan.

Juliana Rincón Parra [Colombia] - While I had less interaction with Juliana than before, it was because she was promoted to Global Voices Video Editor. However, she still managed to provide great coverage of important videos from the region, which was whenever she was not knitting or podcasting. Read her blog: Medea Material [es] and follow her on Twitter: @medeamaterial.

Julián Ortega [Colombia] - Digital media has become an integral part of Colombian politics over the past several years, and Julián has provided a service for helping GV readers wade through the vast amount of tweets, Facebook groups, and blog posts. He is extremely knowledgeable about the subtle nuances and context of Colombian politics. Julián is also very active in the equinoXio [es] digital magazine. In addition, he holds a special place in his heart for his cats, who can be seen on his Flickr account. Follow him on Twitter: @julianortegam.

Laura Vidal [Venezuela] - Laura has been personally responsible for making sure that Venezuela is not portrayed as a country that only revolves around polarizing politics. She has made sure GV readers learn about many of the country's talented musicians, writers, artists, and cultural projects. Currently pursuing her Master's degree in Education Sciences at the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense in Paris, Laura has always offered me a place to crash on her floor during my stops in Paris, and also showcased her culinary skills to me when she made delicious arepas. Read her blog Sacando la Lengua [es] and follow her on Twitter @lenguaraz.

Luis Diego Molina and Adriana Vargas [Costa Rica] - I hesitate to not give each of these young authors their own recognition, but they've been working together on the citizen journalism project Habla Costa Rica, where they have reported from the ground during events like the protests at the University of Costa Rica. I've been thoroughly impressed with their willingness to learn and how much dedication they have put into their project. Follow the project on Twitter: @hablacostarica.

Lully Posada [Colombia] - Lully is such a strong supporter of citizen media projects around the world, but there is one that has attracted more attention than others. In fact, she has started volunteering with the HiperBarrio project helping out with workshops, but more importantly, providing encouragement and motivation to the new bloggers. She is also one of the co-founders of the equinoXio digital magazine, and provides interesting interviews. Read her blog: Reflexiones al Desnudo [es] and follow her on Twitter: @lullyp.

Milton Ramírez [Ecuador] - Milton or perhaps I should write Dr. Ramírez, has been one of the most prolific GV authors from the region over the past several years. Milton holds a doctorate in Education and is extremely interested in examining the relationship between education and technology. He is also a champion for local technology projects and events in his native Ecuador, including extensive coverage of BarCamps and other digital campaigns. His love for his home region of Loja has placed the city on my must-visits someday. Read his blog: Education and Tech and follow him on Twitter: @tonnet.

Renata Avila [Guatemala] - As one of the resident Creative Commons experts within the Latin America team, Renata is the lead for the Creative Commons project in her native Guatemala. She is also serving as one of the co-leads in the Technology for Transparency project at Global Voices. Renata also holds a special interest in the plight of the indigenous communities in her country and which has served as a subject for many of her articles on Global Voices. Read her blog: Nothing is Permanent [es] and follow her on Twitter: @avilarenata

Rocío Díaz [Dominican Republic] - Rocío is our first author from the island of the Dominican Republic. She took great care in presenting a wide range of issues from the colorful characters of Carnival to the national sport of baseball, as well as the DR's response to the earthquake in neighboring Haiti. She started blogging as part of a national movement for community action, which helps draw attention to problems, as well as solutions in the island's municipalities. Read her blog: Monaco [es].

Silvia Viñas [Uruguay/Chile] - As the new Regional Editor for Latin America, Silvia has always been willing to fill in whenever needed, whether it be about issues facing Chile or Uruguay. No wonder she is so flexible, since she describes herself as half-Uruguayan and half-Spanish, and has lived in five Latin American countries. This allows her to be a great fit for the role of Latin America Editor, who needs to be well-versed in the affairs of an entire region. When she is not online posting and editing, she is the mother of an adorable two year-old, who just celebrated her birthday. Read her blog: Walking Around [es] and follow her on Twitter: @silviavinas

This is only a partial list, as there are many more authors who have recently joined or who have been recently inactive, but have been an integral part of making the Latin America region as strong as it has become. These authors include: Claudio Ruíz [Chile], Clotilde Castillo [Panama], Nike Jung [Chile], Muna Annahas [Paraguay], Roy Rojas [Costa Rica], Celeste Calvet [Argentina], Aaron Ortiz [Honduras], Leonidas Mejia [Honduras], Mario Durán [Bolivia], Carlos Suasnavas [Ecuador], Mario Blanco [Uruguay], Tim Muth [El Salvador], Rodrigo Peñalba [Nicaragua], Melissa De León[Panama], Luis Carlos Díaz [Venezuela], Rosario Lizana [Chile], Iria Puyosa [Venezuela], Claudia Cadelo [Cuba], Alvaro Berroteran [Nicaragua], HJ Barraza [Mexico].

As you can see, the Latin America team is very diverse, not only in the part of the world that they coverage, but in their own personal interests and background. Congratulations to such an amazing team of volunteers for making the Latin America region so well represented at Global Voices.

April 24 2010

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