See also:
» 15.10.2010 - Uganda tabloid urges "hanging of homos"
» 25.09.2009 - Ugandan editors charged with sedition
» 26.08.2009 - Four Uganda’s journalists face criminal charges
» 19.10.2007 - Cry for Ugandan gays
» 18.10.2006 - Ugandan media chief forced to resign
» 09.12.2003 - New threats to press freedom in Uganda
» 02.09.2003 - Ugandan Minister reopens Catholic radio
» 25.06.2003 - Ugandan police close church-owned radio

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Ugandan journalists accused of being "rebel spies"

afrol News, 26 January - The spokesman of the Ugandan Army has accused two journalists from 'The Monitor', Uganda's most highly profiled independent newspaper, of being "rebel collaborators". The allegations come as yet another government attempt to silence Ugandan media in covering the brutal war in the northern provinces.

The spokesman of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF), Maj Shaban Bantariza, said at a press conference in Kampala that Andrew Mwenda and Wanyama Wangah, journalists working with the independent 'Monitor', were "rebel collaborators".

The military officer stated later in an interview with state-controlled 'Radio Uganda' that the Army had recovered the telephone contacts of the journalists from the body of a commander of the LRA rebels, who was killed by UPDF in northern Uganda last week.

Mr Bantariza added that those mentioned should defend themselves because they are "dealing with terrorists." The rebels of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) are internationally renown as brutal warriors terrorising the population of northern Uganda. By branding LRA rebels as "terrorists", the Kampala government also has placed restrictions on press reports regarding the rebels and the war against them.

The army attack on the 'Monitor' journalists has not been the first confrontation between the Ugandan government and the press. Only in June last year, Ugandan police stormed the studios of the Catholic 'Radio Kyoga Veritas FM', which had featured interviews with people who had been abducted and released by the LRA. The radio station was reopened in August.

The latest army statement today caused protests by the Uganda Journalists' Union (UPU) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which "vigorously condemned" the army's allegations linking the two 'Monitor' journalists with the LRA rebels. The allegations were "raising fears of prosecution under anti-terror law," IFJ noted.

- The wild allegations against some of the most prominent journalists in the country are outrageous, especially because the anti-terrorism act still carries the death penalty for any act of terrorism said Aidan White, IFJ General-Secretary. "They are blatant efforts to systematically stifle voices of dissent and undermine journalists' rights to report in Uganda."

- It is shocking to see that the army has the audacity to make public and official such nonsense, added Stephen Ouma, General Secretary of UPU. "Journalists have never been accused by rebels of being government agents or spies because we receive daily email messages from the head of the Presidential Press Unit," he said.

In March 2002, the Ugandan Parliament adopted an anti-terrorism bill, officially tabled before parliament in response to the 11 September attacks on the US. The bill has been subject of much contention. No one yet has been charged under the anti-terrorism law but IFJ says the most endangered group in the prevailing circumstances are the journalists. The bill threatens the death penalty for any journalist publishing materials deemed to support terrorism.

- The biggest problem journalists face is that this threat to their impartiality and efforts to report independently and use different sources of information could jeopardise their position, said Mr Ouma. "Government will now and then charge journalists who talk to dissidents, opposition politicians or people with divergent views."

The Kampala regime also recently shut down dozens of privately-owned broadcasters, which could not pay for their operating permits, including communitarian radios. "More than half of the radio stations of the country are affected by those stringent and unbalanced measures," noted Mr White. "This situation and the direct accusations against journalists represent a real threat against press freedom."

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