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Uganda Record editor accused of sedition

Source: Norman S. Miwambo

Our Reporter
Police in an East African country indicted the online editor of The Uganda Record, Timothy Kalyegira, of sedition Tuesday and searched his house. Kalyegira says that, the Media Offences Department commissioner of police, Simon Kuteesa, interrogated him nearly two hours over some online articles that speculated as to whether the Ugandan government were involved in the July 11, 2010, attacks that locked Kampala city.

Kalyegira who was summoned on Friday, July 30, throw a telephone communication told this reporter that: “I got a phone call and it was late that I couldn't pick the summons. I told the officer that I would go there on Monday pick.”

Kalyegira has reported to the police daily since and said he accompanied them while they searched his home today. Police confiscated his laptop, modem, passport, notes, and mobile phone. He was told to return to the Kira Road Police Station in Bukoto, a suburb of the capital, Kampala, on Friday, he said.

The police Media Offence Department, which is part of the Criminal Investigations Department, alleges that Kalyegira violated the colonial-era penal code by publishing seditious material.

However, Kalyegira's defense counsel Ladisleus Rwakafuuzi maintains that the police cannot lawfully indict Kalyegira under this law since it does not take into consideration Online publications. “This law is not up-to-date,” Rwakafuuzi said. “They have no legal mandate for this since the Ugandan Record is not a newspaper.”

Since 2002, several journalists continue to face harassment from the police force as they get interrogations and arrests on alleged charges of defamation, sedition and promoting sectarianism.

Although, the trial judges have stayed the prosecution of such cases whilst the Supreme Court considers as Constitution. Editor of the Independent magazine, Andrew Mwenda argues that the penal code provisions on sedition and sectarianism and criminal defamation contravene Article 29 of Uganda constitution, which guarantees free speech and free press. The case surfaced in the 2002, but today it remains pending. Previously, the journalists who have been interrogated, Managing Editor, Daniel Kalinaki, Sunday Monitor Editor: Henry Ochieng and reporter Emmanuel Gyezaho on accusations of uttering false document, photo journalist Stephen Otage for taking a picture outside the state House.

According to the Ugandan Human Rights Network of Journalists, more than a dozen Ugandan journalists are currently being prosecuted under the sedition law. Kalyegira is the first online journalist accused of sedition in Uganda, according to Daily Monitor. In 2005, former CPJ International Press Freedom Award winner Andrew Mwenda, managing editor of bimonthly newsmagazine The Independent, challenged the constitutionality of the sedition law. The case is still pending.

“Regardless of the nature of the article, sedition charges are never justified,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We call on the authorities to return Timothy Kalyegira's equipment.”

The Uganda Record is one of the few Ugandan media outlets that questioned whether the July 11 bomb blasts were instigated by Somali insurgent group Al-Shabaab, Kalyegira told CPJ. The site published an article on July 12, “Who set off the Uganda Bombs?” and another July 16, “Why is Rwanda not condemning Al-Shabab?” that says: “Rwandan intelligence officers that Uganda Record sources have spoken to seem to believe that the bombings were by Ugandan intelligence.” The article provided no evidence for the allegations.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, for two July 11 bomb blasts in Kampala that left an estimated 76 people dead. An Al-Shabaab spokesman said it was retribution for Uganda's participation in the African Union peacekeeping forces based in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.