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 their respective countries.
19 February: The National Council for Communication held a press conference to announce the decision to allow two radio stations, Rema FM and Radio Isanganiro to resume news broadcasting after a nine month ban. Three other stations remain under the ban since a failed coup on 14 May 2015.However, the two stations’ directors were forced to sign a commitment to be ‘balanced and objective’, and not threaten the country’s ‘security’.
Rema FM was allowed to resume broadcasting music in November, but Radio Isanganiro remained closed and off-air until the announcement. Their permission to resume new broadcasts was conditional on them signing the pledge.
2 February: Mbuvi Kasina, a bloggerand activist from Kitui County was arrested and accused of improper use of a licensed telecommunication system. The region’s legislative representative, Rachael Nyamai, accused Kasina of defamation after he made a post calling for accountability in the management of Constituency Development Funds (CDF) of the Kitui South Constituency on his Facebook page.
3 February: Ivan R. Mugisha, a Kigila-based journalist with Nation Media-owned newspaper The East African, was arrested by the Rwanda National Police for writing a story about suspected tax evasion. Mugisha was arrested at the newspaper’s premises by police officers accompanied by members of the Rwanda Media Council. Reports said police were looking for both Mugisha and his colleague Johnson Kanamugire but the latter was not present at the office during the arrest. Mugisha is being held at Remera police station in Kigali.
9 February: John William Ntwali, an investigative reporter and editor of the Ireme news website was released after being held by the police for thirteen days. Ntwali was arrested on the 28th of January and charged with raping a minor but the case subsequently unraveled, reinforcing the impression that the charge had been fabricated to punish him because his reporting had been critical of the government.
8 February: The privately-owned Somali Channel TV offices, located in the northern city of Buuhoodle, were ransacked by the bodyguards of Dr. Suleyman Isse, the health minister of the self-declared autonomous state of Somaliland. Reports indicate that Dr. Isse’s bodyguards shot at the main entrance of the station’s offices and forced their way inside. They seized computers and cameras. No journalists were injured during the raid. The attack followed the TV station’s refusal to refrain from reporting on the resignation of the minister’s chief of staff. ARTICLE 19 partner groups in Somalia were also informed that the head of the station stated that he had previously turned down the offer of a bribe in return for his silence.
19 February: Al-Tabeer reporter Joseph Afandi was released after nearly two months of arbitrary detention by the National Security Service. Afandi was arrested on December 28th and held incommunicado at the headquarters of the National Security Service (NSS) in Juba. At no point during his detention was he allowed to speak to a lawyer or contact his family, and he was never informed of which charge he was being held under.
13 February: Mwanahiba Richard of Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) was assaulted by Mwinyi Kazimoto, a Simba soccer player, while the journalist was covering a march.
Kazimoto reportedly punched and slapped Mwanaiba while she was reporting at Kambarage Stadium in Shinyanga. According to reports, Kazimoto alleged that that Mwanaiba had previously written about him in a negative light and the player saw an opportunity for revenge after spotting the reporter on the field.
1 February: Margaret Kayondo, a correspondent for Radio Simba in Sembabule was assaulted by four Uganda People’s Defence Force officers while covering a scuffle between the ruling political party, NRM, supporters and the police in Lwemiyaga, Sembabule District. Her audio recorder and smart phone which she was using to take pictures were confiscated. They deleted all the recorded material from the recorder and the phone.
5 February: a reporter affiliated with Red Pepper newspaper received threatening calls and text messages on his mobile phone from a parliamentary candidate for Kigulu North constituency, Kyakulaga Bwino Fred. Its alleged Fred wrote, ‘you are in for the shock of your life, watch this space,’ following a news story that the journalist wrote which criticized the performance and rating of the politician’s candidature for the parliamentary seat. Although the matter was reported to police, no investigations have been carried out, reports indicate.
6 February: Catherine Byaruhanga and Kelvin Brown of BBC and Sam Lawino of NTV were arrested by police in Abim district while filming Abim hospital. They were ordered to delete their footage before their release, but they declined. They were released after four hours without any charges.
10 February: Reports indicate that police in the Kalangala district stopped four journalists of various media outlets from covering the arrest of a parliamentary candidate for the Bujumba constituency.
13 February: Richard Mungu Jakican, editor of Radio North, as well as six politicians were arrested in the radio’s studio and detained by police in Lira while filming a discussion on the presidential election debate that was being aired live from the Kampala Serena Hotel. The police accused them of defacing candidate Museveni’s campaign posters. They were later charged with malicious damage to property and granted bail after four days in detention.
18 February: The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) blocked several social media sites on the day of the Ugandan presidential election. UCC’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Fred Otunnu cited ‘national security’ and that the platforms were being ‘used to campaign on voting day’ as justifications for the ban. He added that the Uganda Electoral Commission had previously complained about alleged online campaigns that were continuing after February 16th, when all election campaigning was required to cease. ARTICLE 19 believes that a blanket ban on social media on an election day is disproportionate
18 February: Latiff Maganda of Step Radio and TV and Denis Oluka, Bureau Chief of Uganda Radio Network in Mbale were heckled by supporters of the NRM Bulambuli District Member of Parliament elect, Sarah Wekomba.
20 February: Dr. Kizza Besigye was put under house arrest at his home in Kasangati in Wakiso district. Security agents, including army forces, have repeatedly denied access to more than twenty local reporters and over ten foreign correspondents, preventing them from covering the news of Besigye’s house arrest. No explanation has been given so far by the security apparatus for blocking the journalists’ access.
22 February: Isaac Kasamani, a correspondent for AFP, was pepper sprayed by a security officer in civilian clothes while he was covering the arrest of Dr. Kizza Besigye at Kasangati in the Wakiso district. The security forces blamed journalists for disobeying security orders not to cover the news of Besigye’s arrest. Journalists have been threatened with arrest if they continue to demand to know the identity of the officer who assaulted the journalist. Reports indicate that foreign correspondents have since fled Uganda in fear of arrest.
27 February: Six journalists; Elijah Turyagumanawe of NBS television, Dean Saava Lubowa of NBS, Mukose Arnold of Salt Radio, Sendegeya Mohammed of CBS, Kiwanuka Stephen and Nakiwala Faridah of BBS television, were arrested near Dr. Besigye’s residence on the orders of Kasangati Divisional Police Commander, James Kawalya. They were taken to Kasangati police station, detained for a short time and released without charge.
29 February: Two journalists; Abubaker Muwonge of China Central Television (CCTV) and Francis Otucu of Red Pepper Publications were arrested for filming a box of piglets that had been dumped outside the State House by unknown people. Police claimed that they were trespassing in the premises of State House. Muwonge’s video camera and smart phone were confiscated by the police and he was forced to reveal the password of his phone. They were later released on bond after being detained for more than seven hours in a cell. They were charged with criminal trespass.