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Media Crackdown Raises Fears of Ugandan Government’s Grip

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Media Crackdown Raises Fears of Ugandan Government’s Grip

Posted by Ledio Cakaj on September 17, 2009

Media Crackdown Raises Fears of Ugandan Government’s Grip

A week after the riots started, three radio stations remain closed under orders of the Ugandan state. A fourth, the Catholic radio station Sapienta, received permission today to resume broadcasting. Three Sapienta staff members have been suspended for allegedly inciting the public to riot. Radio Two, Suubi FM, and the Kabaka-affiliated Central Broadcasting Services FM remain closed until an investigation by the government is complete.

Ugandans are worried about the way the Ugandan state handled the crisis last week, particularly considering the political undercurrents that caused the violence to escalate, which I reported about yesterday. The shutting down of four radio stations and the banning of some radio and television programs accused of inciting violence is troublesome. HURINET, a Ugandan human rights organization, stated in a press release that such action ‘violates the freedoms of speech and association provided for under article 29 of the Uganda constitution.’ Speaking to Enough, Patrick Tumwine of HURINET maintained that due process in the form of legal proceedings and fair hearings had not taken place prior to shutting down the radio stations and other programs. 

The arrest of the prominent Ugandan journalist Robert Kalundi Sserumaga is a major cause for concern. In a live open debate program on a TV station, Mr. Sserumaga commented on a statement made by President Museveni on the day the riots began.  Mr. Sserumaga called the president’s remarks derogatory to the Kabaka and the Baganda while questioning Museveni’s manners and upbringing. Mr. Sserumaga was arrested immediately after the TV program ended and subjected to “excessive force” while in police custody, according to an email from his lawyer. Mr. Sserumaga spent two nights in the hospital and was charged with six counts of sedition. He is now out on bail.

In the aftermath of one of the most violent riots in Uganda’s recent history, many are wondering what the events might mean for the upcoming elections in 2011. The intimidation tactics used against Mr. Sserumaga and the clamp down on the media are certainly troubling indicators of what may be to come.


Photo: Member of the Ugandan military and police beat a demonstrator at the height of the riots in Kampala late last week. AP