Newsletter: Freedom of Expression in Eastern Africa

Newsletter: Freedom of Expression in Eastern Africa - Civic Space

At the printing press of Newsline, staff look at their most recent edition. Charles Kabonero (managing director) and his colleagues had to flee to Uganda after their independent weekly Umuseso newspaper was banned in their native country. Now working in exile in Kampala, Charles and his colleagues started a new newspaper Newsline.

May 2016

This monthly bulletin provides a snapshot of the status of Freedom of Expression in Eastern Africa. It is compiled by ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa with the assistance of its partners in the respective countries


May 4: Yonathan Tesfaye, a former spokesman for the opposition Blue Party was charged by Ethiopia’s Federal High Court for inciting violence and other terror-related offenses, citing Facebook posts as evidence. Tesfaye was put in custody by Ethiopian security forces in December at the height of violent protests in the Oromo community against an alleged plan by the government to grab their land. If convicted, Tesfaye could face a death sentence.


May 8: Investigative reporters for Sunday Nation were arrested while recording a conversation and had their equipment confiscated. Mr. Martin Nyuguto, a police superintendent in charge of the Homicide Unit at the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) was speaking to family and friends of the businessman man Jacob Juma, who was shot dead on May 5. The journalists were recording the conversation between the officer and Juma’s family as they questioned why it took detectives so long to secure the Mercedes Benz the businessman was driving when he was gunned down. At some point Mr. Nyuguto realised the Sunday Nation reporters wererecording, and confronted them. It took the intervention of the friends and family members present to mitigate the situation. However, the officer still threatened to take undisclosed action against the journalists.

May 11: Charles Njama, a presenter at Gukena 92.8FM radio was sent a threat via text message on his mobile phone while he was on air talking about an exposed filthy trench by the media in Nyeri town. The short threatening message came from unknown sender.

May 23: Several journalists narrowly escaped death after police officers intentionally lobbed three teargas canisters inside their car at the Kisumu Boys Roundabout during the weekly protests against electoral reforms by the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD). “I saw hell within few minutes; this is unwarranted and uncalled for. It was clear from the start of the demonstration that the police were targeting us,” a journalist told ARTICLE 19.


May 4: Alex Atuhaire, an associate editor at the Daily Monitor was summoned and interrogated by the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CIID) for about three hours over a news story which was to be published in the daily paper on April 5. The story was about the mass killings in the Rwenzori sub-region of Western Uganda, where at least 45 people died, according to media reports. This was after the Defence Minister; Dr. Crispus Kiyonga reported a case of criminal defamation at the CIID against the journalists.

Atuhaire was the second journalist from the Daily Monitor to be questioned by CIID over the same story in less than a week. Yasiin Mugerwa, a senior political reporter, who was also questioned about the story, was released on bond and ordered to return to police after a fortnight.

May 5: Jim Muhwezi, former Major General in the army and current Information Minister, issued a gag order preventing media live coverage of the opposition party leader Dr. Kizza Besigye. The government order followed the Deputy Chief Justice’s April 29th ruling that all protests by the opposition were illegal. The Information Minister threatened a permanent ban and withdrawal of broadcasting licenses for any media house that did not obey the directive. He said the ban may “extend to social media if it is used as an alternative tool for propagating a defiance campaign.”

The ban went into force a few days ahead of the swearing in ceremony ofPresident Yoweri Museweni, who is now entering his 30th year of rule after he was re-elected in February. The European Union Observer Mission said that the election lacked transparency and “fell short of meeting some key democratic benchmarks.”

May 11: Denis Kato, a journalist with Channel 44 was shot in his left leg and rushed to a nearby health centre for first aid treatment, while Arnold Mukose of Salt FM and Ndugga Nicholas of Delta TV were arrested. The three journalistswere arrested while covering a protest at Nakasero Market. A fourth journalist, Damalie Muhaye of KFM was caned by army officers while she was covering the unusually heavy traffic jam caused by traffic diversions by police ahead of the swearing in ceremony.

May 12: Ugandan Government switched off social media platforms ahead of the swearing in of President Yoweri Museveni on May 13, after his disputed re-election on February 18, 2016. This was the second time social media platforms were switched off, citing ‘security concerns’.

Mobile phone service providers sent messages to their subscribers, quoting a directive from the Communications Regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), to switch off all social media platforms till after the swearing in ceremony.