The International Federation of Journalists vigorously condemned today allegations linking journalists with LRA rebels made by the Uganda military, raising fears of prosecution under anti-terror law.
“The wild allegations against some of the most prominent journalists in the country are outrageous, especially because the anti-terrorism act still carries the death penalty for any act of terrorism” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “They are blatant efforts to systematically stifle voices of dissent and undermine journalists’ rights to report in Uganda”.
The spokesman of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF), Maj Shaban Bantariza, told a press Conference that Andrew Mwenda and Wanyama Wangah, journalists working with the independent The Monitor, were rebel collaborators. The military officer stated later in an interview with Radio Uganda that the army recovered the telephone contacts of the journalists from the body of an LRA commander, who was killed by UPDF in northern Uganda last week. He added that those mentioned should defend themselves because they are “dealing with terrorists”.
“It is shocking to see that the army has the audacity to make public and official such nonsense” said Stephen Ouma, General Secretary of the Uganda Journalists’ Union. “Journalists have never been accused by rebels of being government agents or spies because we receive daily email messages from the head of the Presidential Press Unit (PPU)”, he added.
In March 2002, the Ugandan Parliament adopted an “anti-terrorism” bill, officially tabled before parliament in response to the September 11 attacks on the United States. The bill has been subject of much contention. No one yet has been charged under the anti-terrorism law but IFJ says the most endangered group in the prevailing circumstances are the journalists. The bill threatens the death penalty for any journalist publishing materials deemed to support terrorism.
“The biggest problem journalists face is that this threat to their impartiality and efforts to report independently and use different sources of information could jeopardise their position”, said Stephen Ouma. “Government will now and then charge journalists who talk to dissidents, opposition politicians or people with divergent views”.
The regime recently shut down dozens of privately-owned media outlets which could not pay for their operating permits, including communitarian radios.
“More than half of the radio of the country are affected by those stringent and unbalanced measures” said White. “This situation and the direct accusations against journalists represent a real threat against press freedom”.
The IFJ calls on the Ugandan authorities to condemn the allegations of Maj Shaban Bantariza, revoke the legal threats against journalists and stop harassment against independent media.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries.