Two Ugandan journalists jailed for “cyber-stalking” president
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of two Ugandan journalists who have been held since a raid on their office on 10 March on charges of “cyber-stalking” President Yoweri Museveni and “offensive communication.” Seven colleagues were also arrested in the same raid but have since been released.
The two journalists still held are Norman Tumuhimbise, the executive director of Alternative Digitalk TV, an online TV channel critical of the government, and Farida Bikobere, a presenter. At a hearing on 16 March, a court ordered them detained provisionally in Luzira high security prison in Kampala until 21 March, when a bail application is to be considered.
Tumuhimbise and Bikobere were arrested for publicising two books by Tumuhimbise – due to be published on 30 March – that take a critical look at Museveni’s policies ever since he became president in 1986. They and their colleagues were arrested when security forces raided Alternative Digitalk TV on 10 March, confiscating equipment and a vehicle. The other seven were released on bail on 16 March but their equipment was not returned to them.
When reached by RSF, the journalists’ lawyer, Eron Kiiza, said their detention was “arbitrary and illegal” because it violated the two-day limit set by the law.
“These journalists were arrested en masse and held incommunicado without access to a lawyer for several days as if they were planning an attack,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Because of a book critical of the president, you're treated like suspected terrorists. The prolonged detention of these two journalists, who are still in prison, is as serious as it is unjustified. We call for the charges to be dropped and for their immediate release.”
Journalists are often subjected to intimidation, threats and sanctions in Uganda. In May 2021, two journalists spent three weeks in prison on criminal libel charges. Two months before that, the president himself threatened to “bankrupt” the country's leading newspaper, the Daily Monitor, after it reported that members of his inner circle had been secretly vaccinated against Covid-19.
Uganda is ranked 125th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index, 28 places lower than in 2015.