Press freedom: four Uganda’s journalists face criminal charges

August 27, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Posted in Africa | Leave a comment
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Four journalists from Uganda’s independent newspaper are facing criminal prosecutions, joining four others already charged since 2007, according to local reports.

Criminal prosecutions against the Monitor are on the rise against the backdrop of mounting national tensions in the lead-up to general elections in 2011 reports further said.

This month, President Yoweri Museveni, who is expected to seek re-election, private broadcasters against inciting public discontent with the government.

David Kalinaki, managing editor of the Daily Monitor, and Henry Ochieng, editor of the Sunday Monitor, are both charged with forgery after the paper ran a reproduction of a leaked presidential memorandum. The Monitor had acknowledged some errors in the reproduction of the document and published a correction on 4 August 4.

The editors are free on a bail of 500,000 shillings (US$245) each, pending trial on 7 October, the newspaper reported.

In a separate case, in the northern city of Gulu, Magistrate Michael Okonya rejected a petition by Monitor reporter Moses Akena, who was charged with libel on 10 August, to suspend his trial pending the outcome of a constitutional challenge of criminal libel statutes before Uganda’s Supreme Court.

In his ruling, the magistrate amended the charges against Mr Akena to publishing false news – an offense the Supreme Court repealed in a 2004 decision, according to the defense lawyer, who further said the defense will appeal the ruling with a formal complaint to the Chief Magistrate of Gulu.

“We are alarmed by the growing crackdown on independent and critical reporting in general, and on Monitor in particular ahead of the elections,” said CPJ Africa Programme Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We hope the Supreme Court strikes down criminal defamation laws, which would bring Uganda further in line with the practice of most democratic countries.”

Another Monitor staff, photojournalist Stephen Otage, is battling charges of “criminal trespass,” after his arrest while taking photographs of Inspector General of Government Faith Mwonda outside a courthouse on 21 July.

Ms Mwonda brought a criminal libel lawsuit against four Monitor journalists who raised questions about her salary in 2007. These four brought the Supreme Court challenge to the libel law, which has not yet been decided. In the meantime, Ms Mwonda’s lawsuit has been suspended pending the outcome, unlike in Mr Akena’s case.

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