Politics, Uganda

Stella Nyanzi: Why our collective voices matter

This week I joined Uganda writers, editors, authors, bloggers, publishers, curators, literary activists, scholars and colleagues in the creative sector have called on the Government of Uganda, to drop charges against Stella Nyanzi, for the good of our literary culture and the country.

We are concerned that the imprisonment of Dr Stella Nyanzi, may open a floodgate for the criminalisation of creativity in Uganda.

Here is why our voices matter; attack on free speech and free thought is an attack on society and our ability to advance. You can also add your voice here

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Journalism, Uganda

Crackdown on freedom of expression: Ugandan Radio Talk show host detained, intimidated and freed

Ugandan journalists and activists working outside Kampala face some of the worst threats and sometimes these threats go unreported. If the stories are reported, they generally don’t receive the same hype as the arrests or mistreatment of those that are Kampala based.

Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) working with security operatives have been at the center of threating freedom of expression of Ugandans upcountry. Every now and then a talk show host is threatened or kicked out of job for opinions that are everyday broadcast on stations held in the capital.

Opposition candidates are finely denied airtime to articulate their side of politics on radio stations outside the city. Most Ugandans upcountry whom the current government largely depend on radio. This makes the job of a radio journalist riskier.

On May 08, a Radio Political Talk show host James Kasirivu of the popular “World Express” program on Mbarara based Endigito Radio station was arrested. Kasirivu was picked up by plain clothed security operatives, first detained at Mbarara Police station in Western Uganda before being transferred to infamous Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Kireka, Kampala.

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) says  security operatives did not tell Kasirivu what crime he had committed offence, and neither did they allow him to call his relatives or lawyer. Kasirivu was held for one night and was driven back to Mbarara in the night.

Kasirivu told HRNJ-Uganda that one of the officers threatened him with shooting once he asked why he was being held. HRNJ-Uganda in statement said Kasirivu was accused of obtaining about Shs 870 million equivalent to US $ 348,000 from a certain herbalist. When asked the head of SIU Chelimo Beata told HRNJ-Uganda that Kasirivu was implicated in the conning of money from a certain woman of about Ug. Shs 400 million equivalent to $ 160,000.

Sources told HRNJ-Uganda that “Kasirivu has been stopped from mentioning anything to do with Ugandan current affairs –be it politics, economics or social issues in his daily program ‘World Express’ which highlights currents affairs happening around the globe. Kasirivu’s show was previously shut down after receiving numerous warnings from the UCC.

Ugandan security forces have given themselves a right to hold Ugandan citizens incommunicado. Sometimes people are held for months in these units without charge and Kasirivu’s case could have gone unreported.

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There are a limited number of critical shows that serve most of rural Uganda. Most radio stations upcountry are still owned by NRM linked businessmen, ministers and government officials. This means the critical debates that urban communities in Uganda are treated to everyday are a rare thing for rural Uganda.  Not much is available online about the radio man who’s known as ‘The Great’ whose show is well respected in south western Uganda districts. A facebook page for the show that Kasirivu runs has 116 followers https://www.facebook.com/groups/170672033058793/

For a government that seems to be using all means necessary – including trying to expel MPs from parliament- to shut up divergent views, talk show hosts like Kasirivu are perceived as a threat.  Their role in imparting knowledge in the rural populace can’t be welcomed by a government that benefits from such information gap.

These arrests and intimidation are not a new project they have been here for sometime, the only difference is the tougher the road gets for NRM, the rougher their means become.

The police has also been on the tail of activists behind the Black Monday Movement.  Six members of the civil society-led campaign that preaches against corruption in public offices were arrested in February for allegedly distributing flyers. The Police asked the campaign to register their publication. The team has moved on the look into audio messages. The Police ruled that the campaign messages were “inciting.”

Like my teacher and journalist Bernard Tabaire wrote in Daily Monitor “Every constitutional lawyer who passed exams thinks the NRM leadership has taken leave of its brain. That is sad. Kind of.”

Tabaire’s may have been referring to efforts to expel MPs from the house, but with such intimidation of people like Kasirivu and Black Monday campaigners the statement fits many actions of our government.

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Uganda

Questions on Mayombo death in a UN report on attacks on freedom of expression

For the last few days I have been in Geneva as Internet Freedom Fellow with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva and Institute for Media and Global Governance with many other digital activists, bloggers and journalists from Burma, China, Tunisia, Egypt, South Korea and Indonesia. One of the tours took me to the United Nations office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. I got to discuss parts of the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue released two weeks ago. Uganda had a few cases in there but one caught my attention. And since we just celebrated Heroes Day with more medals out (similar way we create districts), I thought the case of the Late Noble Mayombo was timely.

In report I found a case that hadn’t seen much in the media in Uganda. Joram Bintamanya, a journalist , Gerald Kankya and Prosper Businge who are members of Twerwaneho Listeners Club, a non-governmental carrying out human rights advocacy through radio programs in Toro area were arrested for talking about Mayombo’s death. This information, according to the report, was gathered last year.

On April 1 2010 Prosper Businge was summoned to Fort Portal police interrogated about a talk show he hosted on Better FM where Kankya and Bintamanya had requested government to release the report of investigations into the 2007 death of former permanent secretary of Defence Ministry Brig.Noble Mayombo. There was a team appointed by President Museveni regarding the death but not much has been heard from the team or a report.

The two human rights advocates like many in Uganda have had to report to police on weekly basis for interrogation on a case that would probably never stand in courts of law. Bintamanya was charged with sedition after a day in jail and according to the report the two men have faced threats and police has told them to abandon their human rights advocacy. The two men are being stopped from talking about the death of Mayombo, a subject that many people stay away from because his death has many theories around it.

They work outside Kampala so there’s a likelihood that their arrest and intimidation will not make it to many national media outlets yet these are the people making mind shifts in rural Uganda where we have limited civic awareness and limited knowledge of rights and state protection. Just like all the cases reported last year the government of Uganda has never responded to the queries into abuse of right of expression.

Having seen reports of more heroes’ medals it is only reasonable that we ask where the report on Mayombo’s death is. To my knowledge he was many peoples hero and many looked up to him. Why shouldn’t people talk about this subject in public when it is very much alive in private discussions?

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