Newspaper reporter harassed by police for allegedly libelling President Museveni

Published on 30 December 2009

Reporters Without Borders condemns the way the Ugandan police are harassing Angelo Izama, an investigative reporter and political analyst who works for the independent Daily Monitor and the radio station KFM, over an article he wrote on 20 December. He has been summoned and questioned three times in the past week for allegedly libelling President Yoweri Museveni.

“Not only are the libel accusations unfounded, but the methods being used by the police to intimidate him are disgraceful,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities are violating his right to the presumption of innocence, although this is guaranteed by Ugandan law. This disturbing development highlights the lack of freedom for Ugandan journalists as the country enters a crucial period, the run-up to the 2011 elections.”

Describing the current climate for the Ugandan press as “unhealthy,” Izama told Reporters Without Borders: “The state already has overwhelming control of the media, both directly and indirectly, but this kind of incident reinforces journalists’ fears and makes it more likely they will censor themselves.”

Izama was summoned for the first time on 22 December and interrogated for five hours. He was summoned a second time on 28 December and a third time yesterday. Now the police have given him a fourth summons for 6 January and have told him not to leave Kampala. He still does not know if he will be prosecuted. If tried on a criminal libel charge, he faces a possible three-year jail sentence.

Entitled “Preparing for 2011 elections by arming troops” and published in the Daily Monitor’s Sunday edition, the Sunday Monitor, the offending article reported growing concern that the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections could be marred by violence. It also quoted comments by diplomats and opposition figures about the ruling National Resistance Movement’s plans to provide “military training” to more than 2,500 men before the elections.

The day the article was published, President Museveni said: “These people of the Monitor, I am going to deal with them if they don’t change their ways.”

A total of 15 journalists are currently being prosecuted in Uganda, facing sentences ranging from several months to several years in prison. Most of them are charged with criminal defamation or sedition. One of them, Patrick Otim of Mega FM, a station based in the northern city of Gulu, is facing a possible death sentence on a charge of treason. Arrested in June, he is accused of being a member of the rebel Uganda Patriotic Front.

Four radio stations were closed last September during rioting in Kampala (read the release). Two of them, CBS, a station owned by the Kingdom of Buganda, one of Uganda’s traditional kingdoms, and Suubi FM, another privately-owned station, are still forbidden to broadcast.

Uganda is ranked 86th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.