With the news of the arrest and detention of Baba TV show host Basajjamivule dominating online news feed on July 27, fears for more crackdown on media expression grew.
The popular anti-government media practitioner was picked from his work station in Ntinda by heavily armed security operatives on allegations of inciting violence and spreading sectarianism.
Shortly before his arrest, the scribe strongly asserted his readiness to face security officers without fear, saying he preferred dying while speaking the truth and fighting for his rights than dying in silence.
He made the remarks in a live video recorded as heavy security surrounded the premises of Baba TV prior to his subsequent arrest.
Mivule’s arrest was but just a signal of the uncertainty of the environment journalists will work under as 2021 — the year for the general elections — draws closer, media observers argued.
The whole of last week seemed to remind the media fraternity of the usual hostilities faced by its members each time elections set in.
The week started with the news of the arrest and detention of Baba FM Program’s Director Ddamulira Twahiri reportedly for hosting a member of a newly unveiled opposition party.
The scribe was later released on police bond although reports later emerged that he had lost his job at the Jinja-based radio station.
There were also reports that the authorities had ordered against letting MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine appear for his scheduled discussion on the NTV about his new political party unveiled on July 22 despite the fact that he had been cleared for the same and announcements made to the same effect.
The biggest story of the week was the arrest of the five Radio Simba presenters, the Bizonto, who also double as comic entertainers.
The group was arrested over their satirical drama wherein they sarcastically tipped the young ones of the nation to pray for the people who occupy the most significant positions in government.
They went on elaborating about the said leaders with a specific concentration on those who hail from the Western region of the country, suggesting that that specific region was favored at the expense of the others.
Just within the same eventful week, the national communications regulatory body, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), issued an order that all media houses would need to reapply for broadcasting licences.
This has been interpreted as a move by government to force media owners to sieve out messages transmitted for the benefit of the public to the disadvantage of mainly those in opposition.
Last week’s occurrences, together with Monday’s arrest of Basajjamivule, are not a new phenomenon.
In January 2020, Jinja’s Busoga One FM was put on notice after police blocked main opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye from accessing the station for a show.
Months later, Bugiri Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Godfrey Nyakahuma and District Internal Security Officer (DISO) Ronald Mukasa Ssali threatened action against Eastern Voice FM if the station hosted Dr Besigye on the Eastern Parliament Program.
Besigye has also previously been blocked or ejected from radio programs, with security officials claiming he is a threat.
Also, in October 2018, 13 radio and TV stations were accused of violating the minimum broadcasting standards over coverage of an arrest of an MP. Five of these were asked to explain why their licences shouldn’t be suspended while one talk show was suspended.
The media houses were also asked to suspend many of their staff for covering the arrest of Kyagulanyi in Arua.
While the main stream media have been heavily suffering under the strict scrutiny of the country’s security forces, social media, another avenue that had been identified by dissenting voices as an alternative means of venting their dissatisfaction against government, have not been spared either.
Ever since government passed the Computer Misuse and Communications Act of 2011, many opposition groups resorted to social media to air their opinion on government and other issues.
This criticism has over the years not gone well with the government. As a result, various security agencies have come up with special internal units to monitor public discourse on social media.
It’s been claimed the strict monitoring of social media is premised on the fear for protests that can largely be coordinated through social media as was the case during the Arab Spring unrest.
Some people critical of the ruling establishment have faced the wrath of the government through imprisonment and exile.
In April 2020, Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was arrested and held at the Special Investigations Unit in Kireka for days until court ordered for his production in court.
He was later jailed at Busesa Prison in Iganga before being charged with spreading deceitful information that would lead to the spread of an infectious disease,Coronavirus.
He, however, claimed he was quizzed over his satirical book ‘The greedy Barbarian’ whereof he seemed to fault the ruling government for its corruption and gross incompetence.
But pro-government commentators and security agencies claimed he was drawing his book into the arrest story to market his book.
Before Rukirabashaija, former Makerere University researcher Dr Stella Nyanzi was jailed for offensive communication and disturbing the peace of the President after attacking the Head of State, his Late mother Esteeri Kokundeka and wife Janet Kataaha Museveni.
Presidential Aspirant Joseph Kabuleta is also another one of the many whose social media attacks on those in authority have landed them in trouble with security agencies.
The popular sports journalist turned born again cleric was detained for his sporadic attacks against the first family.
Others like Tom Volitaire Okwalinga have opted to use pseudo names in order to evade arrest and the law. With the use of the VPN technology, government’s long search for Okwalinga has not yet paid off.
For fear of repression from the state, some people critical of the government have seen it wise to flee and seek refugee in foreign countries.
For his constant social media rants against government over the 2016 Kasese crisis which claimed his 20-year old son, Mike Aripa Omalla had become a target for the security forces.
Fearing for his life, fleeing the country was all he was left with as an option. From Belgium where he currently resides, he continues to write for the online publication Peril of Africa and sometimes on the blog of a renown Museveni critic Martha Leah Nangalama based in Canada.
Others are Aisha Namuleme, Moses Atocon, Barbie Mukasa and many more who claim they are against the system and have been haunted by security agencies because of their dissenting opinions.
With ‘scientific elections’ around the corner, government may be keen on containing the flow of information that’s deemed offensive to it’s retention of power.
Commenting on government’s resolve to manage social media communication, government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo previously said the state “will not tolerate those spreading propaganda and falsehood about the President and the government and anyone found doing so will be dealt with according to the law.”
He further claimed some of those people who were using social media to internationally discredit the government were enemies of Uganda and such acts ‘treasonous.’