The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today vehemently criticized Ugandan government’s order asking all journalists to seek fresh accreditation ahead of general elections next month.

The Media Council of Uganda, a government appointed body, has informed all journalists that their accreditation is being revoked and they should apply for fresh accreditation within seven days.

According to IPI’s sources in the country, journalists have to submit a fresh accreditation form within seven days, but the Media Council has not indicated how long it would take to grant fresh press passes. Furthermore, the Media Council has stipulated new conditions for foreign journalists, which includes a letter from the Interpol office of their respective countries and the details of their employers.

“The Ugandan government is stifling independent, critical coverage of the election campaign, which will deprive the citizens the opportunity to make an informed choice in the next month’s elections”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “The new regulation not just undermines press freedom it also violates all democratic norms. The government should immediately withdraw the new rules and allow journalists to cover the campaign and the elections.”

Journalists in the country fear that the new directive will effectively prevent critical coverage of the campaign as well as the general elections scheduled for January 14, in which President Yoweri Museveni is seeking his sixth term in office. Unless the accreditations are renewed immediately foreign journalists residing in Uganda and those travelling there to cover the elections will be barred from reporting.

A statement issued today by the Foreign Correspondents Association of Uganda (FCAU) described the Media Council’s action as “an attempt at intimidation which has no place in a democratic society run by the rule of law.”

“This move comes as journalists from major international outlets are being barred from entering the country and some already here are being forcibly removed by plain clothes state security officers, despite complying with all accreditation and immigration requirements as advised by the Ugandan government”, the FCAU statement said.

Media in Uganda has been facing intimidation and censorship by the government ever since the announcement of the elections. In the recent months, attacks on journalists by law enforcement officials have increased. On November 18, journalists covering the rally of opposition candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobby Wine, were pepper-sprayed and assaulted by the police. Earlier, on November 5, Moses Bwayo, who works for an international media house, was shot in the face while filming the arrival of Bobby Wine.

On December 5, Uganda deported CBC journalists Margaret Evans, Lily Martin and Jean-Francois Bisson, a videographer. Over the past few months President Museveni and his followers have claimed that foreign journalists were favouring opposition candidate.