The Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament has become the first holder of the prestigious seat to be sued by the country’s journalists after suspending them from covering the nation’s legislative assembly. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, 56, who was also the first woman to grace the Speaker’s Chair in Uganda’s history, is being sued by two journalists, Sulaimani Kakaire and David Lumu of the Ugandan Observer Publications after she ordered the Clerk of the Assembly to bar them from covering parliamentary proceedings.
Through their lawyer, Allan Mulindwa of Mulindwa Allan & Co. Advocates, the duo filed an application on February 11, 2013, seeking a declaration that the decision made by Parliament, through the office of the clerk dated January 28, to suspend them from Parliament was an abuse of power, and should accordingly be overturned. Lumu and Kakaire were accused of writing two articles, namely; ‘How Kadaga, Oulanyah (Kadaga’s deputy) fought over petition’ and ‘House recall petitioners strike deal with Kadaga’ respectively, which she said were false and full of inaccuracies. The Observer defended the stories saying they were factual although they never carried the side of the Speaker. The journalists argue that the decision was unconstitutional, and therefore should be declared null and void.
Allan Mulindwa, their lawyer told a Uganda Human Rights Organisation, HRNJ-Uganda that the Speaker had dispensed with their right to trial: “The guidelines the Speaker used are not law, they are not binding; they contradict the Constitution. So we want Court to declare that she was illegal, irregular and her decision null and void.” Mulindwa told HRNJ-Uganda.
In addition, the journalists are seeking a permanent injunction restraining the parliamentary commission, chaired by Ms Kadaga, from interfering with their reporting at Parliament. “There is no offence under the law for publishing false news and it is a limitation of media freedom.” reads part of the application. They are also seeking compensation for the damage caused in their work and career.
Commenting on the journalists’ action, Moses Kajangu, Secretary General of the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) said his organisation has met twice with the Uganda parliament’s public relations officer who had agreed that the two journalists ought to be re-instated to report from Parliament, although no date was set. “They have gone to Court, but we also played our part. We agreed to review the suspension when we met with the UPPA Executive.”
Wokulira Ssebaggala, HRNJ-Uganda’s National Coordinator said: “Since the publication of false news was nullified in Uganda, the Speaker should not apply other guidelines to deter independent and critical reporting, which acts as a measure to keep the authorities in check and remain accountable to the people. Parliament should be a champion in the protection and promotion of Human Rights.”