Uganda urged to free two journalist held since last week on libel charges

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of two Ugandan journalists, Pidson Kareire, the founder of the respected investigative news website Drone Media, and Darious Magara, a reporter for East African Watch, who were jailed on criminal libel charges last week without their bail applications being heard.

The two journalists have been charged in connection with stories they wrote last October and November about the reported failure of a construction company, Dott Services Ltd, to complete a government contract to build roads linking Uganda with the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Their reporting was based on statements made by legislators during several parliamentary hearings on the subject. 

As a result of a libel suit filed by the company earlier last month, the police arrested the two journalists on 27 May and took them before a judge who ordered them detained until 17 June, when a court will hear their bail applications and begin hearing the case. 

They were taken to Kitalya prison, a maximum security prison 50 km northwest of Kampala. Their lawyer told RSF they are facing possible two-year sentences under article 22 of the Ugandan penal code

It is incredible that these journalists have been imprisoned for nothing more than presumed defamation,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “As well as being totally disproportionate, this measure constitutes a serious constraint on the freedom to investigate and inform. We condemn the systematic harassment of Ugandan journalists in all its forms and we urge the authorities to release these two reporters at once, before the case is heard.” 

It is not unusual for Ugandan journalists to be targeted when they do investigative reporting. Kareire was accused of defamation and “offensive communication” in 2019 after writing an article about Middle East Consultants Limited, a company that recruits Ugandan workers. The case was eventually dismissed. 

Daily Monitor editor Tabu Butagira and Tony Glencross, the managing director of the company that owns the paper, were summoned for questioning this week for reporting that a BBC TV investigation had concluded that the Ugandan police fired live rounds indiscriminately at a crowd last November causing several deaths among the supporters of Bobi Wine, the main opposition candidate in the presidential election held a few weeks later. Uganda’s leading privately-owned newspaper, the Daily Monitor is constantly hounded by the government. 

Uganda has fallen 28 places in RSF's World Press Freedom Index since 2015 and is now ranked 125th out of 180 countries.

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Updated on 04.06.2021