May 3, 2010

V. The State of Media Freedom in Uganda

No journalist should be afraid in Uganda except those that are seditious.
Hon. Kabakumba Matsiko, Uganda’s minister of information[2]

Tolerance of criticism and protection of free speech in Uganda fluctuates based on political factors. Campaign and election seasons are particularly tense, when violations of freedom of expression tend to escalate. Uganda is currently gearing up to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in February 2011, only the second multiparty election in Uganda’s history. In 2005, a popular referendum instituted multiparty democracy, at the same time as the ruling party pushed through an amendment to the constitution to lift the two-term limit on the tenure of the presidency.[3] President Museveni was re-elected in the first multiparty elections in 2006. He has now been in office for 24 years.

In the period since the establishment of multiparty rule, the government has used legal and extrajudicial means to repress the media. Given the relatively strong stance of the courts, criminal charges, though often leveled against journalists, are not the strongest means at the government’s disposal. As documented below, in the numerous instances where government threats and intimidation are leveled extrajudicially, through anonymous phone calls, casual or confidential meetings, or by the arbitrary edicts of regulatory bodies with broad ill-defined powers and no due process guarantees, the court’s protections are of little comfort to members of the media. The effect of such threats is particularly dramatic in rural areas outside the capital, where the resident district commissioners’ power is largely unchecked, and such threats seriously inhibit free expression. Given this context, the outbreak of political violence in September 2009 gave rise to an even more intense wave of repression against the media, as the government strove to keep control of the information environment.


Under every Ugandan government since 1962, journalists who have spoken out against government policies have faced physical violence, criminal charges, threats, and imprisonment.[4] President Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power in 1986 and instituted the “Movement” system, which denied other political parties the right to operate for almost 20 years.[5]

Uganda’s first private radio station, Radio Sanyu, opened in 1993, ending the state’s monopoly on radio broadcast that had been in place since colonialism.[6] Ugandan media experts have noted that during President Museveni’s first two terms in office, the NRM government tolerated more outspoken criticism than did previous regimes.[7] However, others argue that radio liberalization in Uganda was principally about an NRM economic strategy of privatization and “a freeing of business space than as a deliberate strategy of enhancing media freedom.”[8]

Uganda’s 1995 constitution, a product of national consultation, contains strong provisions on freedom of expression.[9] However, while the NRM government has permitted more radio stations to function since coming to power, it has also passed a series of increasingly repressive laws and has expanded the number of government regulatory bodies, which have mandates to oversee, control, and monitor the media.

An estimated 200 FM frequencies in Uganda operate in scores of local languages.[10] Radio continues to be the primary source of information throughout the country, and stations are owned by a range of actors. Some stations are owned directly by government via the public broadcaster, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, or by the state corporation Vision Group, which owns a large number of radio stations and newspapers in a diverse array of local languages. A large number of radio stations are owned by government ministers, parliamentarians, and business people with established connections to the ruling party. Others are owned by independent business people and churches.[11]

Currently, five separate entities all have some formal overlapping mandate to control, monitor, discipline, and/or sanction journalists and media houses. All are subject to direct government control. Contrary to internationally accepted standards, and in contrast with several other African jurisdictions, there are no provisions in law requiring the regulatory bodies to be independent of government interference.[12] This structure leaves the media, and especially those who are critical of government action, extremely vulnerable to closure or other punitive action. In addition, it is widely believed that others in government, particularly the Internal Security Organization, the domestic intelligence body, monitor the media and react, often to suppress critical reporting.

  • The Press and Journalist Actestablished a Media Council responsible for the regulation of media.[13] The Media Council regulates the conduct of journalists; arbitrates disputes between the public and media or the state and the media; disciplines journalists, editors, and publishers; and censors films, videotapes, and plays.[14] The Minister of Information has the power to appoint a majority of members,[15] and to write regulations for the statute.[16] The law requires the editor in charge of any mass media organization to register with the Media Council and to provide “such other particulars as may be prescribed by the Council,” in effect an unlimited amount of information.[17]
  • The Broadcasting Council, created by the 1996 Electronic Media Act, grants licenses, regulates radio and television stations, arbitrates disputes between broadcasters and the public, and “coordinate[s] and exercise[s] control over” broadcasters.[18] The Council is a government body, comprised of 12 people, all either government representatives or directly appointed by the Minister of Information without any public consultation.[19] The law explicitly states that the Council is subject to the “directions” of the Minister of Information.[20] The Council is charged with enforcing vaguely worded “minimum broadcasting standards,” prohibiting broadcasters from airing programs offending public morality, promoting violence or ethnic prejudice, distorting facts, or creating public insecurity or violence.[21]
  • The Uganda Communications Act establishes the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).[22] The UCC is a regulatory body mandated to allocate and license frequencies of the radio spectrum, promote competition among communications operators, and regulate the telecommunications industry.[23] Its vision is to facilitate development through “universal access to communications services largely delivered through the private sector.”[24] In April 2010, the Uganda Communications Commission and the Broadcasting Council announced that the two would merge into one body.[25] The current chairperson of the Broadcasting Council will head a board that will manage the merging process.[26]
  • Officially, the Media Centre, created under the Office of the President in 2005, is the central site for access to government press statements. There is no statutory basis for the Centre. Its objective is “ [t]o cause positive and factual public awareness of government in the media.” [27] During the run-up to the 2006 elections, the Media Centre usurped some of the powers of the Media Council. The Media Centre set out to investigate and accredit foreign journalists and prohibited a KFM Radio journalist from moving outside a 100-kilometer radius of Kampala city. [28] Critics have pointed out that the Centre has often operated as a “ political prop, acting largely as the information outlet for the National Resistance Movement rather than as an independent government agency.” [29]
  • The police Media Crimes Department was established two years ago to investigate alleged crimes committed via print and broadcast.[30] The department monitors the media closely and summons journalists, talk show panelists, and others for questioning, curtailing freedom of expression via intimidation in and of itself, even if charges never go forward.[31] Official statistics as to how many cases are under investigation or pending with the department are not publicly available. According to one knowledgeable police source, in its first year of operation, the department submitted 90 cases to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and 12 were allowed to proceed.[32]


Criminal Charges against Journalists

Criminal charges against journalists in retaliation for critical speech are increasingly common in Uganda, though in the rare instances when a case goes before a judge, courts have often protected journalists from the full repressive potential of this tactic. Since 2005, close to thirty journalists working at Kampala-based print publications have received a barrage of well-publicized police summonses. Some concluded in criminal charges that are still pending.[33] At least 10 radio journalists and talk show panelists have also been charged with crimes.[34] All are out on bail, and none have ever been convicted of any crime.[35] Some faced multiple charges from multiple incidents.[36] These criminal cases stem from the publication or broadcasting of reports that were critical of government programs or policies or allegedly insulted government officials. Charges range from libel to more serious accusations of sedition.

Because of pending constitutional challenges to several “media crimes,” many cases against journalists do not proceed. In June 2009, the Constitutional Court ruled that criminal libel is constitutional, but an appeal to the Supreme Court is pending.[37] The constitutionality of the sedition statute is also currently being reviewed by the Constitutional Court, and all prosecutions under the law have been suspended pending its ruling, though, as stated previously, the Media Crimes Department of Uganda’s Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) continues to summon, question, and charge journalists with sedition.[38]

In the few cases that have come before the courts, judges have upheld the right to freedom of speech as enshrined in the Ugandan constitution. The Ugandan Supreme Court recognized the relationship between free speech and democratic governance in Obbo & Mwenda v. Attorney-General, a landmark 2004 case. Deeming the crime of “publishing false news” unconstitutional, Justice Mulenga wrote:

A person’s expression or statement is not precluded from constitutional protection simply because it is thought by another or others to be false, erroneous, controversial or unpleasant. Everyone is free to express his or her views. Indeed the protection is most relevant and required where a person’s views are opposed or objected to by society or any part thereof, as “false” or “wrong.” … A democratic society respects and promotes the citizen’s individual rights to freedom of expression because it derives a benefit from the exercise of that freedom by its citizens. In order to maintain that benefit, a democratic society chooses to tolerate the exercise of the freedom even in respect of ‘demonstrably untrue and alarming statements,’ rather than to suppress them.[39]

The protections of due process afforded in formal court proceedings have been a source of assurance for some journalists. For example, one radio journalist in Kasese district told Human Rights Watch, “We’re worried for arrest but even if we are arrested, if we’re subjected to a fair trial, we think we shall succeed.”[40] Due process is available when formal charges go to trial, but these instances are rare due to both the pending constitutional petitions of various criminal charges and the fact that cases are seldom pursued to trial.

Cases against Print Journalists

The majority of the currently pending charges are against journalists from the Daily Monitor, a publication that is at times perceived to be a platform for the opposition, though journalists working for other publications have also been charged.[41] Most recently, Angelo Izama, a senior reporter with the Monitor group, and Henry Ochieng, editor of Sunday Monitor News, were charged on February 4, 2010 with criminal libel, based on a complaint from the president.[42] Izama wrote a piece of political analysis published on December 19, 2009 about the risk of political violence during the 2011 election in which he compared Museveni to former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.[43]

On August 11, 2009 Daily Monitor journalist Moses Akena, based in Gulu, was charged with criminal defamation for an article that appeared on August 7, 2009. In the article, Akena quoted the Gulu district speaker from a press conference in which he said that the deputy resident district commissioner, Milton Odong, gave 60 iron sheets donated by the president’s office to his friends instead of to the intended needy families.[44] Akena interviewed Odong on the phone about the allegations and published his denials in the article. Other journalists, including radio journalists from the government-owned Mega FM, covered the press conference and broadcast the allegations on air but were never charged.

Human Rights Watch interviewed Odong about the criminal defamation charges against Akena, but Odong denied any knowledge of the case. He said that journalists should be careful of “reporting maliciously.” He said that “professional journalism” involved interviewing both sides to write a balanced story. Odong denied ever being contacted by Akena on the story.[45] After being charged, Akena was released on bail but is still regularly reporting to court. The case has not gone to trial.

The multiple charges against Monitor journalists in particular are not surprising to Ugandan media experts. According to Charles Onyango-Obbo, one of the founding editors of the Monitor, “He [Museveni] sees our [Monitor’s] attitude as hostility. He realises that he cannot escape from it so he says to us that it is important to understand the nature of the state and the recourses that the state has. The state basically has the laws and the power of coercion.”[46]

Journalists from other publications have also faced charges. Andrew Mwenda, formerly with the Daily Monitor and now the editor of the Independent magazine, is currently facing 22 different criminal charges from incidents over the last five years.[47]James Tumusiime and Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, working with the independent Weekly Observer newspaper also have pending charges. In 2005, the twowere summoned to police, held for five hours and eventually charged with “promoting sectarianism.” The charges stemmed from an article citing the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) as having accused Museveni and three top military officials of persecuting opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye on ethnic grounds.[48] The case has not gone to trial because of the pending constitutional challenge.

Even when criminal cases are slow to proceed, the requirements of police bond or court bail serve as a form of harassment for journalists. At one point, Monitor journalist Angelo Izama was reporting to police on a weekly basis for months until he was eventually charged with libel. James Tumusiime from the Weekly Observer has been reporting at regular intervals since being charged in 2005.[49] For three years, he and co-accused were required to report each month until the court changed the requirement to reporting every six months.[50]

Criminal Charges against Radio Journalists

Radio journalists have also faced criminal charges for their reporting and political commentary, though rarely. Moderator William Gonza and five panelists who regularly discussed issues in their community on two Life FM radio talk shows in Fort Portal were arrested and charged with incitement to commit an offence and criminal libel in January 2008.[51] The charges stemmed from discussions about an incident in October 2007 during which royal guards from the area’s tribal kingdom, the Batoro, allegedly destroyed Life FM’s transmitter using acid, in order to silence criticism from the radio station.[52] The panelists made statements on January 3 and 7, 2008 about the delay of the police investigations into the acid attack and the state’s failure to prosecute and punish the perpetrators.[53]

Shortly after the arrest of these six people, the Broadcasting Council sent “confidential” letters to all Fort Portal radio stations naming the six as being banned indefinitely from broadcasting on any radio station.[54] The Council sent a separate letter to Life FM concerning William Gonza’s failure to perform his duties as a moderator.[55] As a result, Life FM informed the five panelists that their shows would be suspended until further notice.[56] A Life FM letter to Gonza suspending him for a month stated, “You put our station at risk by antagonizing the government.”[57]

The six successfully challenged the government in court while they faced their criminal charges. In February 2008, they sued the state for the reinstatement of the two radio shows. The following month, the court ruled that the shows would be allowed to return on air and that the police had violated the six people’s constitutional rights to free speech.[58] Judge Rugadya Atwoki wrote in his decision, “I tried hard to find the justification for the suspension of the programme, but I did not find any.”[59] All the defendants were eventually acquitted of all criminal charges in September 2009 for lack of evidence.[60] The six are currently suing the state for unlawful arrest, illegal detention, and malicious prosecution.[61] The five panelists did not return to air until March 2010, after they had been off-air for more than two years.[62]

Threats to Radio Journalists outside Kampala

There is a widespread belief among journalists outside Kampala that they are more vulnerable than those in the capital.[63] They are paid less, often work without contracts, and voiced a serious lack of confidence that their station owners would provide legal services if they got into trouble for their reporting. The lack of active civil society or lawyers in many rural districts also means that journalists who are threatened by state actors rarely find anyone who can come to their assistance. Most threats come either directly from police or from people who work closely with police, such as the resident district commissioners (RDCs) and their staff, and go completely undocumented and unreported. Journalists simply change their reporting, focusing on issues less likely to get them into trouble while they try to maintain their employment to support their families.

RDCs are the local representative of the President’s office present in each district and are directly appointed by the president.[64] Among other roles at the district level, RDCs chair the district security committee and the intelligence committee.[65] Largely because of the perception that these individuals are close to the president, they wield tremendous power at the local level, despite overlapping roles with the elected district council chairs. As one journalist in a rural area told Human Rights Watch, “It depends on the type of RDC in a given area, but generally, an RDC is not friendly to media and media houses. You can’t argue with him. He has orders and you do what he wants.”[66]

Numerous radio journalists described to Human Rights Watch incidents in which they had been threatened, harassed, and intimidated by local government officials, particularly RDCs, district internal security officials, and ruling party “mobilizers” because of their reporting, covering opposition events, or trying to access government information. Topics that incur government interference and the extent of the intimidation vary by geographical area, and depend on personalities of key security and government officials, as well as the perceived strength of the ruling and opposition parties in a given area.

Political talk shows, involving invited guests and a moderator discussing current political issues, are a forum that appears to draw the greatest intensity of intimidation and threats. In several districts, RDCs had told station managers and talk show hosts that they had to submit lists of all invited guests to the RDC’s office for approval, as a “security measure.”[67] In some instances, RDCs told radio stations that certain people could not be discussed.

In Mbale, a talk show host had been told directly by the then-RDC what to cover during his shows.

The RDC told me, ‘Don’t host these people, don’t allow them any airtime. Don’t raise these issues.’ When there was [the] controversial issue of [the] land bill, people here didn’t want me to talk about it. The land bill was very controversial, and people were very sensitive about it. I got some threats, some funny calls at night and daytime.[68]

One political talk show moderator and journalist from Jinja told Human Rights Watch that he had been directly threatened by local security operatives and ruling party “mobilizers” or “cadres” as they are known locally, three times in the recent past. His programming usually involves discussing politics, hosting politicians, and taking callers. The first threats came in 2008, when he discussed on air why the government was considering classifying Mbarara as a city before Jinja. He questioned whether this was because Jinja’s elected leadership is predominantly from the opposition. After the broadcast, he received anonymous phone calls threatening him with violence if he did not stop talking about that issue. His bosses advised him to simply follow the commands of the callers.

In October 2009, the same Jinja journalist again received threatening calls when he held an on-air debate with callers about who the legitimate king of Busoga should be. The topic was particularly controversial because there had been allegations that President Museveni had supported one person over another who was thought to be loyal to the opposition, in an attempt to draw Busoga support during the 2011 elections.[69] After the broadcast, the journalist received a phone call from the NRM chief mobilizer in the area, telling him that he was becoming a problem. “He told me that security people are now looking at my movements.” The journalist was eventually called by the police and told to leave the issue alone.

Most recently, the same journalist ran a program to discuss the successes and failures of the ruling party since coming to office 24 years ago. The show was topical, as it was broadcast on the occasion of the 2010 National Resistance Movement party day celebrations. After the program, the moderator received phone calls from the Regional Internal Security Officer (RISO) warning him that what was discussed was not appropriate, but without any specific references to what had been said. Later, the area’s chief NRM mobilizer again found the moderator at a local restaurant and threatened him, “We don’t want to hear any of that,” he told the journalist. “You can disappear and no one will know where we have taken you.”[70]

After his experiences, the journalist now admits that he has changed his programming. “I feel so badly, I fear to even say it, but I censor myself now. Some things don’t work here and we should talk about them, but these people make me feel I cannot do my job. I need to say things that I cannot say.”[71]

Another talk show moderator described how he ended up in police custody, despite trying to follow all the rules and broadcasting standards, particularly to ensure that all sides are represented in a debate. He told Human Rights Watch:

The Broadcasting Council tells us to record every program that goes on air, so I told the production manager assistant to go and make a recording. I was supposed to host one parliamentarian from the Forum for Democratic Change, one Democratic Party member, and one NRM minister. [The NRM person] didn’t come. And so we hosted the talk show and waited for him, but unfortunately he never came. Later I realized the recording wasn’t being done [because of a technical problem]. Police stormed the studio. I was called to write a statement. I was told to go back to police on Monday. The officer in charge of the Criminal Investigations Department told me he’d detain me. He told me, “There’s not much I can do.” He had received a phone call “from above,” meaning from [the President’s office]. He said, ‘Your issue is complex, so I leave it to politicians.’ I was behind bars and eventually released at an awkward hour, at 8 p.m. I was never charged. But I was required to go to police twice a week for three to four months. Up to the last day, I went to police. They told me, 'Your case has been dismissed because the Director of Public Prosecutions has no interest in it.’ During this time, my boss was given options for how to deal with me—to dismiss me, to send me on forced leave, to remove me from the early morning programs, which are key for discussions, and to keep me in a musical program. I was forced to work during the daytime, from 2-5pm, just on music and entertainment. I lost interest. Up-country, you can’t talk issues.”[72]

In some parts of the country, police and government officials appear to act with impunity, threatening journalists who seek sensitive information, for example about local-level corruption, or when the topic involves the government or police being derelict in their duties. A journalist in Lira district described how he eventually dropped a story in 2009 about police losing track of criminal files when the District Police Commander (DPC) threatened him. The journalist told Human Rights Watch, “we asked the DPC why that file was lost, and we were pressing him to tell us in what circumstances files get lost. He said that there are certain parameters we should not cross. He was telling us we were going too far. He threatened us, so we had to stop there.”[73]

In February 2010, Charles Osendro, a journalist at Radio Unity in Lira, was temporarily detained by the District Police Commander (DPC) of Apac district. Osendro was interviewing the police in Apac about a murder.[74] One of the suspects had reportedly turned himself in to police and allegedly implicated others in the murder. However, no further action had followed. Trying to gather information for a news story on these events, Osendro questioned the police about their failure to investigate the crime. Police allowed their answers to be recorded, but at the end of the interview, Osendro’s identification card and recorder were confiscated. A police officer allegedly told Osendro, “This man is not going, and he’s not going with our voice.”[75] When Osendro refused to delete the recordings, he was detained for four hours. He was ultimately released when police hired staff from another local radio station to delete the digital recordings. Osendro was released without charge.[76] He has tried to file a complaint with police but they told him that they had not received any communication from their bosses to accept his complaint. Osendro did speak to the Regional Police Commander, who apologized for the DPC’s actions but declined to accept Osendro’s formal complaint.

Responding to allegations that rural journalists’ freedom to access and disseminate information was particularly precarious, Minister of Information Matsiko voiced considerable surprise that journalists would hesitate to report on sensitive political issues, such as corruption or human rights abuses. She said that government has a “zero tolerance policy” on corruption and encouraged journalists to cover that topic. She admitted that certain local government officials might act “excessively” towards journalists but she said she was unaware of any concrete examples.

The September Riots’ Impact on Freedom of Expression

The riots that shook Kampala in September 2009 unleashed a torrent of repression not only against perceived opposition forces, but also against the media. Though this crackdown did result in a handful of new criminal cases against journalists and politicians, largely for sedition and incitement to violence, the state’s main weapons consisted of extra-judicial measures such as station closures, warnings to avoid particular content, and the prohibition of a popular broadcast format. During the heat of the riots, journalists were illegally detained and physically assaulted as well. The ripple effects of this repression continue to inhibit free speech and to curtail the right to information for many Ugandans. Government officials, both at the time of the riots and subsequently, have justified station closures as necessary to prevent dissemination of material likely to incite the population against the government. However, analysis by Human Rights Watch and others suggests that these actions have been taken largely as a means to stifle legitimate political speech. Pre-existing government hostility to stations perceived as too critical or not deferential enough to government perspectives played a large role in closure decisions.

Origins and Course of the Violence

On September 10 and 11, 2009, political discord between the central government and the Buganda[77] cultural institution sparked riots that left at least 40 people dead in Kampala.[78] Baganda youth began rioting when police blocked a delegation representing the Buganda kingdom from visiting Kayunga district. Police also refused to guarantee the security of the cultural king of Buganda, known as the Kabaka, who was planning to visit Kayunga for National Youth Day two days later.[79] The visit was opposed by leaders of the Banyala ethnic group in Kayunga, who allegedly reject the Kabaka’s authority.[80]

The Kabaka’s supporters took to the streets to protest the police interference in his freedom of movement. Human Rights Watch documented numerous instances of the unnecessary use of lethal force by military police during the two-day period.[81] Military police, allegedly looking for rioters, shot through doors and into residences and businesses, killing some people and seriously injuring others. Some protesters resorted to violence in some areas of Kampala, burning at least five cars, one passenger bus, and one delivery truck, blocking some main roads with burning tires and debris, looting shops, and throwing rocks at police and the armed forces. A factory and a police station were burned down.

Police charged thirty people, who were alleged to have destroyed property, with terrorism.[82] The government took swift action against Luganda-speaking radio stations, allegedly for inciting the public to commit violence, and forcibly pulled them off air on the first day of the riots.[83]

The tension further escalated in March 2010 when the cherished Baganda royal tombs of Kasubi burned down under unclear circumstances. The following day, protesters attempted to thwart President Museveni’s visit to the site. Security forces wearing civilian clothes fired on the unarmed protesters, killing three people.[84] Shortly after the incident, two political talk show panelists were arrested and charged with sedition in Fort Portal district after commenting on a radio talk show that, among other things, the President should not have tried to visit the tombs when people were clearly upset by what had happened in September.[85]

Physical Assaults on Journalists

Journalists have often complained that police and military do not distinguish between the media and others during politically charged events, such as riots and demonstrations. According to the Human Rights Network for Journalists, a local nongovernmental organization documenting threats to media freedom, 35 journalists were physically attacked or threatened with physical violence in 2009.[86] During the September riots, several journalists alleged they had been beaten by police and military while trying to document the unfolding chaos. Photojournalists, especially those that documented killings by state agents, appear to have been specifically targeted for abuse.

Edward Echwalu, the photo editor at the independently-owned Observer newspaper, was in downtown Kampala when he was alerted that someone had been killed nearby around 3 p.m. on September 10, 2009, just as the riots were starting. He took pictures of the dead body of a young man who had been shot by police. After taking the pictures, Echwalu left the scene and later came upon a group of 10 soldiers.

He told Human Rights Watch:

They saw me and asked me what I was doing. I tried to give them my business card, show them my ID, but they refused. I showed them my photos because I knew they can be ruthless. When they saw the pictures of the dead body, they didn’t like those pictures; they were uncomfortable. I was beginning to explain the situation when the military police, about six of them, started beating me, telling me to delete the photos.

He was detained for about two hours, and then taken behind a fire station by a group of civilian and military police.

They told me to show them the pictures. They beat and kicked me. They said, ‘People will give us a hard time as a result of these pictures.’ These people were really beating me. It was 6:30, getting dark, and they were going to take me to the barracks. I was scared, and I thought, ‘This is going to be a long night.’[87]

Eventually, Echwalu was released after contacting his editors and after police had forcibly deleted three photos from his camera. No charges were ever brought against him and no one was ever held responsible for the beating.

Prominent journalist Robert Kalundi Serumaga, immediately after speaking on a talk show on September 11, 2009, was assaulted outside the Wavah Broadcasting Station (WBS) studio in Kampala by men in civilian clothing and forced into an unmarked car.[88] The men did not identify themselves or the reason for his arrest. During transport, they beat and choked Serumaga and at one point tried to gouge his eyes when he tried to defend himself. He was taken to an illegal place of detention in Kireka, a neighborhood of Kampala where at least 23 others who had also been arrested during the protests were being held. The following morning he was brought to the Central Police Station and held for three days without charge. No one has been held accountable for the illegal manner of Serumaga’s arrest or initial illegal detention.

On September 15, Serumaga was charged with six counts of sedition and released on bail. One of the charges stemmed from stating that President Museveni suffered from a “very poor quality upbringing.”[89] The Broadcasting Council also suspended Serumaga from hosting or moderating talk shows on air.[90]

Physical assaults on journalists have gone largely uninvestigated by the Ugandan police. Because police and other security forces are often the perpetrators of such violence, journalists told Human Rights Watch they are very reluctant to report physical abuse by government agents.[91]

Closures of Radio Stations

The number of instances of license suspension by the Broadcasting Council has increased generally in recent years. The closures appear to be tied to open criticism of government or the ruling party or granting significant airtime to members of the opposition but the precise reasons for the suspensions are never made fully public and rarely do cases go before courts of law.[92] At most, the Broadcasting Council may communicate in written form that stations are in violation of its vague “minimum broadcasting standards.”[93]

During the 2009 September riots, the Council abruptly shut down four Luganda-speaking radio stations—Radio Sapientia, Radio Two (also known as Akaboozi ku Bbiri), Radio Ssuubi, and Central Broadcasting Station (CBS). These radio stations, like many others, were trying to manage coverage of the dramatic unfolding events on the streets of Kampala. Many stations were taking calls from people who were reporting what they were witnessing with their own eyes. Before the closure, CBS, for example, had a reporter live in Kayunga relaying what was transpiring during the attempted visit of the Buganda prime minister.

The closures occurred without any official or written warning to radio station owners or managers. In most instances, government agents broke into the transmission room of the radio stations, and confiscated studio transmission links. Although there is a statutory provision that the Broadcasting Council has power to confiscate equipment, there is no explicit statutory language granting the Council power to suspend, revoke, or cancel licenses.[94] The Council has interpreted its own mandate broadly to include powers to suspend licenses, stating that “coordinate, exercise and supervise as provided in terms section 10(1) of the Electronic Media Act in ordinary English mean to make things work effectively as a whole, watch over, order, limit, instruct, regulate or stop.”[95] The Minister of Information had responded to the absence of a statutory basis for canceling licenses by drafting extra terms and conditions, which are now compulsory for all those seeking a broadcasting license. According to those terms, any violation of the terms can lead to the immediate loss of the license.[96]

After the shutdown, some stations received letters from the council stating that their broadcasts had violated the “minimum broadcasting standards” by inciting the public to violence, but the letters did not specify how broadcasting standards had been violated or what part of their broadcast was in violation. Nor did the letters have any citations to specific language spoken. In the case of CBS, the Broadcasting Council letter refers to several meetings which had taken place with CBS management since 2007, during which CBS had agreed and then failed to complete a litany of tasks to maintain their broadcasting license. Among other requirements, CBS was required to “guide personalities who are invited to discuss talk shows by giving them guidelines,” “ensure that producers/presenters strictly adhere to the script during discussions,” “scrutinize topics in respect of their sensitivity in relation to the public, invite two persons with divergent views to discuss each topics in other to ensure balance,” “minimize programmes that bring confrontation with Central Government”, to invite the Council to the station so that Council staff could “give guidelines to discussants as to how programmes should be presented,” and to inform the Council of actions taken against some specific producers and presenters.[97]

The Minister of Information, Hon. Kabakumba Matsiko, stated to the press that the riots had been preceded by “inflammatory and sectarian broadcasts from various radio stations, which systematically incited the listeners to cause chaos and destruction wherever they could.”[98] The government has never backed up those allegations by presenting the transcripts of what exactly was said that incited the public to commit violence.[99]

The government’s real motivation for the closures was made plain on September 10, 2009, when the president gave a detailed speech before the Buganda Parliamentary Caucus on why the Kabaka was being prevented from going to Kayunga. He said that one of the conditions for the Kabaka to visit Kayunga would be for CBS to “stop forthwith the campaign against the NRM.”[100] He also said “decisive action will be taken on any media house that continues the practice of incitement.”[101]

Broadcasting Council officials met with other stations after the riots to warn them about their content. In reaction, some stations changed programming in an effort to stay on air. Capital Radio management, for example, sent out a memo to employees on September 29, 2009 saying that after having met with the Broadcasting Council, “[a]ll content related to Buganda, the Buganda kingdom and the institution of the Kabaka—will not be aired … unless as positive stories run in the [government-owned newspapers] covered in the press review.” Management also said those on-air could not discuss the Buganda football tournament finals, could not play songs related to Buganda issues, and must generally stop all comment or news coverage that relates to the Kabaka or to the cultural Baganda government known as Mengo.[102]

Producers interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that they had actively tried to present all sides of the issues and had invited various government officials to be interviewed during the riots, but they had not appeared.[103] These producers therefore felt that accusations that they had not balanced their broadcasts with divergent viewpoints were unfair, but in the end, apologizing was easier than fighting on principle in the courts. The closures left station owners, managers, and journalists without clear recourse and without income.[104] According to media reports, station owners appear to have informally negotiated with the Broadcasting Council or other government authorities, including the president’s office directly, as to what they needed to do to get back on air.[105] Media owners were not willing to be interviewed about the content of those negotiations. Within a few months, three of the four stations were back on air, having apologized and fired some of their broadcasters. Central Broadcasting Services (CBS), owned in part by the Buganda kingdom, remains off the air at the time of writing.

The informal negotiation process between the Broadcasting Council and station owners gives the Broadcasting Council, as well as other government and security officials not legally involved in regulating the media, tremendous power to arbitrarily set additional terms and conditions at a time when stations are not generating any revenue—when owners are most vulnerable to pressure. According to the chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, radio station owners must “play it carefully” to get back on air.[106] In these moments, there is no impartial inquiry into the content of the radio broadcasts. The government, through the Council, has all the power to curtail freedom of expression without any safeguards, as Council members and staff act as both prosecutor and judge.

The content of what was broadcast on CBS and how the station might return to the airwaves remains very controversial. General David Tinyefuza, Senior Presidential Advisor/Coordinator of Internal and External Security organizationswrote in the independently owned Daily Monitor newspaper thatCBS “not only engage[d] in hosting and broadcasting inflammatory statements of opposition politicians, but it also engaged in promoting an anti-government political agenda, actively de-campaigning government programmes.”[107]

He issued an explicit set of conditions for the radio station to return on air, including the replacement of the station’s management, admission of wrongdoing in a letter from the station owners to government, removing the Kabaka as a shareholder in the station, relocation of the station to an area more easily accessible to “people who keep law and order,” and reapplication for a broadcasting license.[108] President Museveni’s press secretary was quoted in the press as saying that CBS would not return to the air until it apologized to government.[109] Such direct interference with content and editorial decision-making violates international human rights law and constitutional requirements to protect freedom of expression.

The Government’s Response to Criticism over the Closures

The Ugandan government has repeatedly alleged that by shutting down radio stations it acted to limit the worsening of public disorder, while refusing to point to specific statements made by broadcasters that constituted incitement. Minister of Information Matisko, in an interview with Human Rights Watch, claimed that broadcasting during the riots by CBS was “no different from Milles Collines” in Rwanda, a reference to the radio station where broadcasters explicitly directed people to kill Tutsis in the lead up to the 1994 genocide. Because the matter is currently before court, she would not comment on the specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing by CBS broadcasters. She admitted, however, that even without the events of September, CBS could and should have been shut down.[110]

Chairman of the Broadcasting Council Godfrey Mutabazi justified the Council’s actions in similar terms to Human Rights Watch.[111] He said that the Council acts mostly in “emergencies, on sensitive issues, and when someone is careless.” Regarding the riots, he said the Council had received a complaint from the Inspector General of Police earlier in the week stating that there was likely to be a security situation in Kayunga and that some broadcasters needed to be careful. The Chairman said that he phoned some stations owners, including CBS, to warn them to be careful about their broadcasts, and that many of them “responded well.” He said that Police told the public not to go to Kayunga, and some radio stations were contradicting those orders.

Human Rights Watch had multiple Luganda speakers listen to recordings of both CBS frequencies from the week of the riots. Numerous efforts to mobilize the public to go to Kayunga and support the Kabaka were clearly broadcast both by advertisers, announcements, and on-air personalities. Human Rights Watch did not hear any specific references encouraging people to use weapons or commit any violent acts. After Human Rights Watch inquiries to the Council regarding specific time codes where broadcasters incited the public to commit violence, Council legal staff said that it was not possible to point to specific statements made on the radio stations that led to the closures, but rather one needed to listen to the past two years of broadcasts on CBS to understand the problem.[112]

As for the closures, the Chairman said that the law was “very clear” and that his council had the power to revoke, suspend, and withdraw a license. He said that the riots were a time of emergency. “It would have been irresponsible for me to hear that people were dying on the streets and that the radios were encouraging people where to go and what to do. We had to close them down. If everyone is blaming FM stations, we must take action,” he told Human Rights Watch and made reference to the Rwandan genocide as an example where radio stations had incited the public to commit crimes.[113]

Council legal staff explained that typically before suspending a license, the Council would requesta recording from a station after receiving a complaint. Then the station manager would be invited for a meeting to discuss the findings. However in the case of the riots, the Chairman argued that public safety dictated immediate action. The Council has never sought a court order to withdraw or suspend a license. According to the Council, in the case of Radio 2, Radio Sapientia, and Radio Ssuubi, their licenses were suspended and not withdrawn because they had “clean records,” meaning no significant previous complaints against them. CBS had a “bad history” and there had been several meetings between the Council and the management over the previous year. Council staff told Human Rights Watch that they had been “very lenient” with CBS which had allowed the situation to degenerate until the license was withdrawn on September 10, 2010.[114]

The Council chairman disputed the notion of any government interference with council decisions, saying that the council has no links to police or intelligence organizations and that it takes action independently. He said the police would only be used as an escort when confiscating equipment, if needed. He encouraged broadcasters who had problems with the Council to appeal his decisions to court. The Chairman’s statement contradicts public statements by Presidential Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi who, while addressing a press conference in March 2010, said that the decision to close CBS was “a Cabinet decision.”[115]

It is clearly possible that media outlet owners might have fired presenters in the wake of the riots as a strategy to ward off the possibility of forced suspension by the Broadcasting Council. Council staff agreed that there are occasions when the Council writes letters to broadcasters stating that a certain journalist or on-air personality must be suspended pending an investigation, but admitted that the Council doesn’t have the power to directly fire or sack journalists. Rather, that is the domain of the Media Council. The Chairman said that they can only “prevail on station operators” during the negotiations at the end of investigations.[116] The local nongovernmental organization Human Rights Network for Journalists wrote that 18 presenters, talk show hosts, and managers were “fired under state duress” in 2009 alone.[117] The Broadcasting Council disputed that number but was not willing to respond to each case with specifics. Two journalists, Kalundi Serumaga and Geoffrey Ssebaggala filed a lawsuit against the Broadcasting Council and the Attorney General in December 2009 seeking compensation for having been suspended from their jobs as talk show moderators via orders from the Broadcasting Council to their media houses.[118]

No one interviewed by Human Rights Watch disputes that CBS has been very critical of several NRM initiatives, such as the land bill and the blockage of Kabaka’s Kayunga trip. Audio recordings from the station make those sentiments very clear. Journalists and media experts agreed that if radio stations had incited people to commit violence, they should be condemned and prosecuted for that, but many felt that government authorities had failed to be specific about how what was aired in September would have qualified as incitement to violence, and left the media community guessing as to how to avoid punitive action while still reporting on unfolding political events in a truthful and independent manner.

Long-Term Suspension of Open-Air Broadcasting

One of most enduring impacts of the media clampdown after the September riots was the official ban on all bimeeza, a Luganda word meaning live open-air broadcasting in public places.[119] Several radio stations, particularly in Kampala, had run these programs for years. Generally, a moderator or host would present a topic for conversation and the microphone would be open to anyone who wanted to speak. The bimeeza were very popular and gave people an opportunity to express frustrations, raise problems in their communities, and occasionally confront government officials.[120] It also provided a free platform to participate in public life for those who could not afford the money to call in to a studio program.

On September 11, 2009, the second day of the riots, the Broadcasting Council issued a statement ordering radio stations to “suspend the broadcast of bimeeza programs until an adequate legal and technical framework has been provided for.”[121] The chairman stated, as he had previously in some private letters to radio stations, that bimeeza do not comply with the Electronic Media Act because a license is granted to a station in a particular location in a specific geographical area where the broadcast is to be made, and because radio stations lacked “adequate technical facilities.” Presumably, this refers to the fact that most bimeeza broadcasters do not have pre-listening facilities installed that enable the broadcasters to edit out offending language. He also stated that “presenters and producers are unable to control the crowd as it would be the case in a studio environment.”[122]

The suspension of these programs remains in effect at the time of writing, and the Broadcasting Council could not state when the “appropriate regulatory framework” for bimeeza would be promulgated.[123]This suspension has significantly violated rights to freedom of expression and information across Uganda. Many of the journalists and civil society members interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the lack of bimeeza country-wide left an information gap in communities. Throughout the country, stations running bimeeza on any topic were forced to comply with the suspension, even if programming was unrelated to the riots or to politics at all.

For example, just before the riots took place, Pascal Mweruka, a program presenter at Radio Buddu in Masaka, had plans to hold a kimeeza to discuss how the police and citizens could work harder to promote security and human rights in their community. The local police had been invited and agreed to attend the program. But after the riots, Mweruka was allegedly warned by government officials that the topic was “too political.” He told the BBC World Service Trust, “This is the community I’m serving and people are entitled to their rights. And when I’m denied the chance of broadcasting a show about what these people are facing, then I’m not doing my duty.” [124]

Many stations told Human Rights Watch that they often covered topics such as corruption, health care, infrastructure, and development issues in bimeeza. Security officials have told station managers that they must now hold these programs inside their studios, but given space constraints, this limitation has severely curtailed audience participation. For example, Parliament-wa, a kimeeza run on Radio King in Gulu used to have over 100 people come to listen and speak when the program was allowed to broadcast from a downtown restaurant. Since the suspension by the Broadcasting Council, according to editors, fewer than 10 people come to the studio to participate.[125]

Effects of the September Riots on Radio Stations outside Kampala

In the days immediately following the September riots, radio stations outside Kampala faced significant challenges as journalists and managers questioned how to broadcast political content without having the problems that the four stations in Kampala had experienced. Simultaneously, the Broadcasting Council’s Kampala media clampdown prompted local government officials outside Kampala to follow suit, arbitrarily violating freedom of expression under the guise of national security.

Journalists and station managers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that resident district commissioners (RDCs) and their deputies took an active role in controlling what was broadcast in the wake of the riots by calling meetings with station managers. In Mbale, during the riots in Kampala, the RDC called and visited radio stations and ordered them to stop political talk shows and bimeeza.[126] The RDC then convened a meeting of management from all Mbale radio stations in early October to inform them that political talk shows could resume but that they must either refuse callers or censor them before allowing them on air.[127] According to media reports, other conditions set by the RDC’s office included a ban on discussing sensitive political matters and censoring opposition politicians who appear on live talk shows.[128] The RDC told reporters that live call-ins must be banned because callers “insult the president and despise government programs.”[129] One of the stations, Open Gate Radio, could not air its political talk show for a period of three weeks following the riots.[130]

Mbale Deputy RDC Henry Faustine Nalyanya told Human Rights Watch, “The talk shows were banned because people, instead of talking, want[ed] to instigate riots” but he gave no examples from Mbale of instances in which that had occurred.[131] He said he was acting on orders from Minister of Information Kabakumba Matsiko who phoned him on September 11, 2009 to “tell radios not to talk about the riots because it will incite the public.”[132]

One of the journalists in Mbale said that he was surprised not to be permitted to carry out his programming plans. “We were not going to talk about riots in Kampala,” he said. “The talk show was going to be about education … It wasn’t related to the riots.”[133] Another journalist, commenting on the RDC’s order to refuse callers said, “To me, that’s closing down the program because I can’t speak for the callers.”[134]

Radio Buddu in Masaka did not air news on any topic on September 11 or 12, 2009, and the weekly press review usually broadcast on Saturday mornings was also cancelled.[135] According to media reports, these actions were prompted because the Broadcasting Council had threatened to close the station.[136] The Chairman of the Council confirmed to the media that Radio Buddu and another station “are on a list of radio stations blacklisted for airing stories inciting pro-Kabaka riots in central Uganda.”[137] The station also fired three employees for conduct during the riot period, for reportedly playing a Buganda song and erroneously reporting that the Broadcasting Council—and not media house management—had banned the Baganda anthem from the airwaves, despite a subsequent on-air apology for the error.[138]

As a result of the riots, journalists in Masaka reported that certain songs, guests, and topics were considered off-limits. One journalist declined to play certain Baganda cultural songs “because of the tension.”[139] Another stated he could host opposition party members before, but not after, the riots.[140] “[Opposition presidential candidate Dr. Kizza Besigye] has not been on any radio station in Masaka since the riots. He used to call. We gave him a line, but after the riots, not again,” said another journalist.[141]

Radio station managers and owners told journalists that the discussion of certain topics, such as the causes or events of the riots, was considered impermissible on air just after the riots, because of the potential threat of closure. “Talking about Buganda versus government, we can’t talk about that. Like CBS, you can’t talk about it. You can’t talk about killings during riots, because people were even beaten here [in Masaka]. If the RDC gets to know, then you are in trouble,” a journalist told Human Rights Watch.[142]

A journalist from Kasese district in western Uganda said that the radio closures in Kampala changed the content of some broadcasts. “It was a terrible situation,” he told Human Rights Watch. “We talked about the details on [the September riots], but director came and said, no, stop. So we stopped. We also fear to be closed down now.”[143]

A journalist from Gulu in northern Uganda told Human Rights Watch that since the riots, the deputy RDC has threatened stations with closure. “He told us that radios that are against the government will be shut down, like those in Kampala.”[144]

In an effort to avoid trouble, many journalists and station managers said that they made a conscious choice to change their programming to steer away from political reporting. One journalist said that he opted to focus programs on what he felt would be “safe topics” such as agriculture, or he played music instead of discussing politics as he usually did.[145] In Hoima district, one talk show host said that he focused on religion and culture to avoid political discussions for about three weeks after the riots.

One journalist from Masaka said that he was aware of many issues related to the September riots, such as people held beyond the constitutional limits in police jails, and some of the killings by state agents. He researched some of the people who were injured or arrested for rioting, but then:

Because of the tension and fear we had during that period, we decided to throw away such stories. Any moment you put on air anything concerning the riots, how people suffered, [security operatives] will come. So we’ve not been free to cover the necessary information from the people. Interviewing people affected by the riots, putting it on air, I can’t do it.[146]


[2] Human Rights Watch interview with Hon. Kabakumba Matsiko, minister of information, April 9, 2010.

[3] For more, see Human Rights Watch, In Hope and Fear: Uganda’s Presidential and Parliamentary Polls, no. 1, February 2006,

[4] For history on freedom of the media in Uganda, see Adewale Maja-Pearce, ‘‘The Press in East Africa,’’ Index on Censorship 21, no. 7 (July-August 1992), pp. 51-68.

[5] For more on the Movement system, see Human Rights Watch, Hostile to Democracy: The Movement System and Political Repression in Uganda, October 1999,

[6] See East Africa Media Institute, Uganda: FM Stations - Quantity without Quality, November 2007.

[7] See Bernard Tabire, “The Press and Political Repression, Back to the Future?,” Journal of Eastern African Studies, July 2007.

[8] Human Rights Network (HURINET), Counting the Human Rights Costs of the September 2009 riots, February 2010, p. 26.

[9] Constitution of Uganda, 1995, art. 29.

[10] Human Rights Watch interview with chairman of the Broadcasting Council, March 15, 2010. Not all of the frequencies that have been assigned by government regulatory bodies actually broadcast on a regular basis.

[11] “Radio stations licensed and operating in Uganda,” Uganda Media Council fact sheet, undated, (accessed April 26, 2010).

[12] In both Ghana and South Africa, the independence of the broadcasting regulatory body is explicit. See Constitution of South Africa, 1996, sec. 192 and Constitution of Ghana, 1992, sec. 172. On the requirement to have an independent regulatory body, see African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, Principle VII. Article 19, “Access to the Airwaves: Principles on Freedom of Expression and Broadcast Regulation,” March 2002, (accessed March 28, 2010).

[13] In 1997, plaintiffs challenged the Press and Journalist Statute. The Constitutional Court decided on procedural rather than substantive grounds to dismiss the challenge. The Court based its decision on differing rules of procedure between cases brought directly to it by way of petition and those referred to it by another court. Uganda Journalists Safety Committee, Mohammed Katende, Peter Bahemuka v. Attorney General, Constitutional Petition No. 7/97, 1997.

[14] Press and Journalist Act, 1995, sec. 9(1). In 2005, the Media Council determined that the women’s rights organization Akina Mama Wa Afrika could not hold a charity event where The Vagina Monologues would be presented. The council determined that the play “prominently promotes and glorifies acts of unnatural sex, masturbation, lesbianism or homosexuality.”

[15] According to section 8 of the Press and Journalist Act, the Media Council shall consist of“(a) the director of information or a senior officer from the Ministry responsible for information, who shall be the secretary to the council; (b) two distinguished scholars in mass communication appointed by the Minister in consultation with the National Institute of Journalists of Uganda; (c) a representative nominated by the Uganda Newspapers Editors and Proprietors Association; (d) four representatives of whom—(i) two shall represent electronic media; and (ii) two shall represent the National Institute of Journalists of Uganda; (e) four members of the public not being journalists, who shall be persons of proven integrity and good repute of whom—(i) two shall be nominated by the Minister; and (ii) one shall be nominated by the Uganda Newspapers Editors and Proprietors Association; (iii) one shall be nominated by the journalists; and (f) a distinguished practising lawyer nominated by the Uganda Law Society. The persons referred to in paragraphs (c), (d), (e) and (f) shall be appointed by the Minister.”

[16] Press and Journalist Act, sec. 42.

[17] Ibid, sec. 5.

[18] Electronic Media Act, 1996, sec. 10.

[19] Five are government members: the director of broadcasting or a Ministry of Information official, as well as a Ministry of Culture official, a Ministry of Communication official, a Ministry of Education official, and a Uganda Revenue Authority official. The nongovernmental members are three representatives of TV, radio, and video operators, two members of the public of “proven integrity,” and one lawyer. Electronic Media Act, sec. 9(1).

[20] Electronic Media Act, sec. 9(5).

[21] For example, in 2007, the council imposed a two-week suspension on Capital Radio talk show host Gaetano Kaggwa, and WBS TV talk show host Peter Kibazo, for hosting gays and lesbians on their programs. Similarly, in 2004, the council forced Simba FM to pay a fine and publish a public apology for hosting homosexuals on a radio program, allegedly for offending public morals. “Broadcasting Council’s Position on Simba FM’s Hosting of Homosexuals,” Broadcasting Council, 2004.

[22] Uganda Communications Act, 1997, sec. 3.

[23] Uganda Communications Act, 1997, sec. 4.

[24] Uganda Communications Commission website, ( accessed April 23, 2010).

[25] Cyprian Musoke, “Broadcasting Council, UCC Merged,” The New Vision, April 6, 2010.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Media Centre, “About us,” undated, (accessed April 27, 2010).

[28]Osservatorio di Pavia, UJSC - DEMGroup, “Report on the Uganda 2006 Elections Media Coverage,” (accessed April 26, 2010), p. 4.

[29] Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, “Freedom of Expression, Report for the Period June 1-November 30, 2007,” (accessed April 26, 2010), p. 28.

[30] Human Rights Watch interview with Gen. Kale Kayihura, inspector general of police, September 30, 2009. Initially, the political and media offenses departments were under one commissioner, but that changed after a recent restructuring in the police forces. The current head of the department told Human Rights Watch that his office’s narrow focus is necessary because “the media’s crimes are sensitive, and require dedicated staff to look critically at the cases, to be concerned about freedom of expression and deal carefully with the media community.” Human Rights Watch interview with Commissioner Simon Kuteesa, March 23, 2010.

[31] Human Rights Watch interview with Ugandan media expert, Kampala, April 5, 2009.

[32] Human Rights Watch interview with police officer, former staff member of the Media Crimes Department, April 2009.

[33] These journalists at Kampala-based print publications include Andrew Mwenda, Angelo Izama Ben Byaruhanga, Bernard Tabaire, Charles Bichachi, Chris Obore, Daniel Kalinaki, Dalton Kwesiga, David Enyaku, Emmanuel Gyezaho, Henry Ochieng, Hussein Bogere, James Tumusiime, Joachim Buwembo, John Njoroge Bichachi, Johnson Taremwa, Joseph Were, Jude Luggya, Kevin Aliro, Michael Ssali, Moses Akena Paul Harera, Richard Tusiime, Robert Mukasa, Robert Mwangje, Rodney Muhumuza, and Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda. See the annex of this report.

[34] The radio journalists and talk show panelists charged with crimes include Basajjamivule Nsolonkamwe, David Rubombora, Gerald Kankya, Joram Bintamanya, Moses Kasibante, Prosper Businge, Robert Kalundi Serumaga, Siraje Lubwama, Steven Rawgweri, and William Gonza. Other radio journalists who were summoned to police include Meddie Nsereko and Oskar Ssemweya. See the annex of this report.

[35] The only journalist to be convicted of a crime since President Museveni took office is Haruna Kanaabi, who spent five months in prison in 1995. He had been charged with sedition and publication of false news for a tongue-in-cheek article entitled, “Rwanda is now a Ugandan province.” He was then editor of the newspaper Shariyat. Human Rights Watch, Hostile to Democracy, October 1999, p. 118.

[36] For example, Andrew Mwenda, formerly with The Daily Monitor and now the editor of The Independent magazine, is currently facing 22 different criminal charges from incidents over the last five years. “Attacks on the Press 2009: Uganda,” Committee to Protect Journalists, February 16, 2010, (accessed April 16, 2010).

[37] Four Daily Monitor journalists, Joachim Buwembo, Bernard Tabaire, Robert Mukasa, and Emmanuel Gyezaho were charged with criminal libel. Mohamed Hassim Keita, “In Ugandan Courts, Important Press Battles,” Committee to Protect Journalists Blog, June 22, 2009, (accessed March 29, 2010).

[38] “Ugandan Paper’s Cartoon of President Draws Interrogation,” Committee to Protect Journalists press release, August 28, 2009, (accessed March 28, 2010).

[39]Charles Onyango Obbo and Andrew Mwenda v. Attorney General, Supreme Court of Uganda, Constitutional Appeal No. 2 of 2002, February 11, 2004.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Kasese, February 24, 2010.

[41] Daily Monitor-related cases include those against Andrew Mwenda, Angelo Izama, Bernard Tabaire, Daniel Kalinaki, Emmanual Gyezaho, Henry Ochieng, Joachim Buwembo, Robert Mukasa and Moses Akena, as well as summonses issued to Chris Obore, Hussein Bogere, Jude Luggya, Michael Ssali, Paul Harera, Robert Mwangje, and Rodney Muhumuza. See the annex of this report.

[42] Both were released on bail of 100,000 Ugandan shillings (around US$50), pending trial. “Museveni accuses two Ugandan journalists of libel,” Committee to Protect Journalists press release, February 4, 2010, (accessed March 23, 2010).

[43]Angelo Izama, “Preparing for the 2011 elections by arming the troops” TheDaily Monitor, December 19, 2009.

[44] Moses Akena, “Gulu Officials Row Over IDPs' Iron Sheets,” The Daily Monitor, August 7, 2009.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Gulu Deputy Resident District Commissioner Milton Odong, March 10, 2010.

[46] Nicole Stremlau, The Press and Consolidation of Power in Ethiopia and Uganda, May 2008, doctoral thesis, Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics (LSE), on file with Human Rights Watch.

[47] “Attacks on the Press 2009: Uganda,” Committee to Protect Journalists, February 16, 2010, (accessed April 16, 2010).

[48] “Uganda,” Committee to Protect Journalists, December 13, 2005, (accessed April 27, 2010).

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with James Tumusiime, April 7, 2009.

[50] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with James Tumusiime, March 29, 2010.

[51] Those five panelists were Gerald Kankya, Joram Bintamanya, Prosper Businge, Dan Rubombora, and Steven Rwagweri. The two talk shows were Twerwaneho (“Let’s Fight for Ourselves”) and Ensonga Ha Nsonga (“Reason Upon Reason”). Human Rights Watch interview with Gerald Kankya, Kampala, March 24, 2010; and Prosecutor v. Businge Prosper & 5 Others, Chief Magistrate’s Court of Fort Portal, FPT-00-CR-C0-0039/2008, CRB-043/2009, September 23, 2009.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Gerald Kankya, Kampala, March 24, 2010.

[53] For example, they discussed a letter that the regional police commander wrote to the inspector general of police requesting his intervention in Fort Portal. Annexure to Prosecutor v. Businge Prosper & 5 Others, Chief Magistrate’s Court of Fort Portal, FPT-00-CR-C0-0039/2008, CRB-043/2009, September 23, 2009.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Gerald Kankya, Kampala, March 24, 2010.

[55] Ibid.; and Human Rights Watch telephone interview with journalist in Fort Portal, March 26, 2010.

[56] Letter from Life FM to Youth for Development Twerwaneho Program, January 10, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[57] Letter from Life FM to Gonza William, February 5, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[58]Dan Rubombora & 4 Others v. Attorney-General, High Court of Uganda at Fort Portal, HCT-01-CV-MA-0019-2008, March 14, 2008.

[59]Dan Rubombora & 4 Others v. Attorney-General, High Court of Uganda at Fort Portal, HCT-01-CV-MA-0019-2008, March 14, 2008, p. 10. Judge Atwoki cited Justice Mulenga in the Supreme Court case Charles Onyango Obbo and Andrew Mwenda v. Attorney General: “Freedom of expression extends to holding, reviewing, and imparting all forms of opinions, ideas, and information. It is not confined to categories, such as correct opinion, sound ideas or truthful information.” Charles Onyango Obbo and Andrew Mwenda v. Attorney General, Constitutional Appeal No. 2 of 2002, February 11, 2004.

[60]Prosecutor v. Businge Prosper & 5 Others, Chief Magistrate’s Court of Fort Portal, FPT-00-CR-C0-0039/2008, CRB-043/2009, September 23, 2009.

[61] Notice to Attorney-General of Uganda from Kaahwa, Kafuuzi, Bwiruka & Co. Advocates, November 12, 2009. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[62] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Gerald Kankya, March 28, 2010. They merged their two former talk shows into one, called “Twerwaneho Listener’s Club.”

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Masaka, February 22, 2010.

[64] Constitution of Uganda, art. 203.

[65] National Security Council Act, 2000, sec. 6. Resident district commissioners are legally supposed to be senior civil servants but these individuals routinely campaign for the ruling party. Many have NRM paraphernalia present in their offices and on the walls.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with station manager and journalist, Kihihi, February 24, 2010.

[67] Human Rights Watch interview with journalists, Soroti, December 8, 2009; and Kasese, February 24, 2010.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Soroti, December 8, 2009.

[69] For more, see Issac Mufumba, “The battle for Kyabazinga still rages on,” The Independent, August 5, 2009.

[70] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist and talk show host, Jinja, February 8, 2010.

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist and talk show host, Jinja, February 8, 2010.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Soroti, December 8, 2009.

[73] Human Right Watch interview with journalist, Lira, March 9, 2010.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Charles Osendu Osendro, Unity Radio, Lira, March 9, 2010.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Buganda is a region of Uganda in the central region of the country. The people of Buganda are Baganda (Muganda, in the singular) and they speak the Luganda language. The Baganda are the largest ethnic group in Uganda. Like some of the traditional royals in Uganda, the Baganda have a customary government structure with no constitutional powers. The government is led by the king, known as the Kabaka and a prime minister, known as the Kattikiro.

[78] Police have officially said that the total number of dead is 27. Based on recently available information, Human Rights Watch believes the real number to be higher than 40. Mulago hospital records indicate that 17 people died there, 11 of gunshot wounds. City morgue records indicate that 13 dead bodies were taken there. Human Rights Watch is aware of at least 10 other deaths in which bodies were not brought to hospitals or morgues. See also “Uganda: Investigate Use of Lethal Force during Riots,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 1, 2009.

[79] Al-mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Musa Ismail Ladu, and Robert Mwanje “Kabaka Condemns Creation of Chiefdoms,” The Daily Monitor, August 25, 2009.

[80] The role of cultural royalty such as the Kabaka in Uganda has been the source of debate historically and remains controversial. President Milton Obote outlawed all cultural leaders in 1966. Museveni permitted them to return in 1995, allegedly for the purpose of winning political support from the four historical Ugandan kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Busoga, and Tooro. The 1995 constitution bars these “cultural leaders” from politics,but they continue to wield significant influence over their communities, particularly during elections. Constitution of Uganda, 1995, art. 246. In this instance, President Museveni had recently voiced support for the Banyala king and the restoration of the Banyala cultural institution, which had been part of the Buganda kingdom previously. This move was thought by some to be evidence of Museveni’s election strategy of “divide and rule”—recognizing multiple ethnic leaders to reduce the power and influence of some of the more prominent cultural leaders, such as the Kabaka. See Charles Jjuko, “President Museveni backs Banyala Chief,” The New Vision, December 14, 2008.

[81] “Uganda: Investigate Use of Lethal Force during Riots,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 1, 2009,

[82] Herbert Ssempogo, “Riot Suspects Face Terrorism Charges,” The New Vision, September 21, 2009, (accessed April 7, 2010).

[83] Juliet Waiswa, “Ssuubi FM Apologises Over September Riots,” The New Vision, November 4, 2009, (accessed April 7, 2010).

[84] Rodney Muhumuza, “Anger responds to fire at Kasubi,” The Daily Monitor, March 18, 2010; and Milton Olupot and Catherine Bekunda, “Parliament condemns Kasubi fire and shooting of civilians,” The New Vision, March 18, 2010.

[85]Felix Basiime and John Nyanzi, “Two Held Over Talk On Mayombo’s Demise,” The Daily Monitor, April 2, 2010; and Human Rights Watch telephone interview with lawyer for the defendants, April 6, 2010.

[86] Press Freedom Index – 2009, Human Rights Network for Journalists, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[87] Human Rights Watch interview with Edward Echwalu, Kampala, September 17, 2009.

[88] “Uganda: End Media Clampdown,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 15, 2009,

[89] “But I’m sorry to say we are also suffering from what seems to be very poor quality breeding, or very poor quality upbringing on the part of Yoweri Museveni, ok?” “What Serumaga said on WBS TV [Re-print of Serumaga’s charge sheet],” The Observer, September 20, 2009, (accessed March 23, 2010).

[90] Anthony Wesaka, “Journalists sue broadcasting council, govt,” Saturday Monitor, December 5, 2009.

[91] In one very recent positive example, on February 23, 2010, the Kampala High Court ordered the government of Uganda to compensate two Wavah Broadcasting Service (WBS TV) journalists who were tortured by police in 2008.

[92] For instance, the Broadcasting Council temporarily closed KFM twice, once for eight days in 2005 for statements made by journalist Andrew Mwenda that the Ugandan government was responsible for the helicopter crash that killed Southern Sudanese government official John Garang. In the Matter of the Suspension of the Broadcasting License of KFM Ltd., No. 1 of 2005, Broadcasting Council, August 18, 2005.

[93] This was the case in the closure of Choice FM in Gulu, which was temporarily closed by the Council in the wake of the 2006 elections. There is no specific description of what was broadcast that warranted closure of the station and no citation to a specific part of any transmission broadcast. Several people interviewed by Human Rights Watch indicated that Choice FM had routinely given a platform to opposition candidates for parliament during the 2006 elections and that many of them had ultimately been elected. Human Rights Watch interview with radio journalists, Gulu, March 8, 2010. Some knowledgeable sources speculated that this closure was punishment for not having supported ruling party candidates. Letter on file with Human Rights Watch. The Broadcasting Council also claimed that the station had failed to renew its annual license and therefore was broadcasting illegally.

[94] Human Rights Watch interviews with Professor Frederick Juuko, Kampala, September 21, 2009; and with media lawyer Kenneth Kakuru, Kampala, February 10, 2010.

[95]In the Matter of the Suspension of the Broadcasting License of KFM Ltd. No. 1 of 2005, Broadcasting Council, August 18, 2005.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with chairman, Broadcasting Council, March 15, 2010. One of these provisions requires broadcasters to “allocate time to promote government programs.” The terms also require broadcasters to purchase equipment to enable the station to receive a live signal feed from Uganda Broadcasting Corporation TV and radio in the event the president wishes to speak to the country using all radio and television stations at the same time. Another regulation forbids radio owners from transferring or selling their licenses without prior approval from the council. “Terms and Conditions for Operating Broadcasting License in Uganda,” on file with Human Rights Watch.

[97] Letter from chairman of the Broadcasting Council to the general manager of CBS, September 11, 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[98] Press statement of Hon. Kabakumba Matsiko, September 11, 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[99] By law, all radio broadcasters are required to keep recordings of all broadcasts for at least 30 days.

[100] Speech of President Yoweri Museveni, September 10, 2009, (accessed April 16, 2010).

[101] Ibid.

[102] Capital Radio Management Memorandum, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[103] Human Rights Watch interview with radio station managers and producers, September 15 and 17, 2009.

[104] All four were closed down on September 10, 2009. Sapientia went back on air by September 16, 2009. Radio Two went back on air on November 3, 2009. Radio Suubi went back on air on January 12, 2010. CBS is still off air.

[105] Edris Kiggundu and Moses Talemwa, “Why CBS license was revoked,” The Observer, September 21, 2009.

[106] Human Rights Watch interview with Hon. Capt. Francis Babu, chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, Kampala, March 11, 2010.

[107] “Tinyefuza’s Take on CBS Question,” The Daily Monitor, January 31, 2010, (accessed April 16, 2010).

[108] Ibid.

[109] Mercy Nalugo and Emmanuel Mulondo,“State House: CBS must apologise,” The Daily Monitor, March 30, 2010.

[110] Human Rights Watch interview with Hon. Kabakumba Matsiko, minister of information, April 9, 2010.

[111] Human Rights Watch interview with Godfrey Mutabazi, chairman of the Broadcasting Council, March 15, 2010.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with legal staff of the Broadcasting Council, March 25, 2010.

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with Godfrey Mutabazi, chairman of the Broadcasting Council, March 15, 2010.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with legal staff of the Broadcasting Council, March 25, 2010.

[115] Mercy Nalugo and Emmanuel Mulondo, “State House: CBS must apologise,” The Daily Monitor, March 30, 2010.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Godfrey Mutabazi, chairman of the Broadcasting Council, March 25, 2010.

[117] Press Freedom Index – 2009, Human Rights Network for Journalists, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[118] Anthony Wesaka, “Jounalists sue broadcasting council, govt” Saturday Monitor, December 5, 2009.

[119] The singular of bimeeza in Luganda is kimeeza.

[120] Human Rights Watch interview with radio journalist, Soroti, December 8, 2009.

[121] Press Statement of Broadcasting Council Chairman Godfrey Mutabazi, September 11, 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[122] Ibid.

[123] Human Rights Watch interview with Godfrey Mutabazi, chairman of the Broadcasting Council, Kampala, March 15, 2010.

[124] Rachael Borlase, “Uganda’s Clampdown Threatens Open Media,” BBC, (accessed April 16, 2010).

[125] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Gulu, March 8, 2010.

[126] The deputy RDC paid a visit to one of the radio stations on September 11, 2009, and signed its guestbook with the message, “Visit . . . for to transmit the message of stopping all bimeza talk shows. Until further notice. Thank you for the cooperation.” Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[127] Human Rights Watch interview with radio journalist, Mbale, December 7, 2009.

[128] Joe Elunya, “Mbale RDC Lifts Ban on Radio Talk Shows,” Uganda Radio Network, September 25, 2009.

[129] Ibid.

[130] Human Rights Watch interview with radio journalist, Mbale, December 9, 2009.

[131] Human Rights Watch interview with Deputy RDC Henry Faustine Nalyanya, Mbale, December 10, 2009.

[132] Ibid.

[133] Human Rights Watch interview with radio journalist, Mbale, December 7, 2009.

[134] Human Rights Watch interview with radio journalist, Mbale, December 7, 2009.

[135] Edward Bindhe, “Buddu FM, Best FM Suspend News Bulletins over Closure Threats,” Uganda Radio Network, September 12, 2009.

[136] Ibid.

[137] Ibid.

[138] Human Rights Watch interview with journalists, Masaka, February 22, 2010. The three individuals fired were Herbert Kabanda, Omulangira Ndawula Jjuuko, and Anthony Lubuka.

[139] Human Rights Watch interview with radio journalist, Masaka, February 22, 2010.

[140] Human Rights Watch interview with radio journalist, Masaka, February 22, 2010.

[141] Human Rights Watch interview with radio journalist, Masaka, February 22, 2010.

[142] Human Rights Watch interview with radio journalist, Masaka, February 22, 2010.

[143] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Kasese, February 24, 2010.

[144] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Gulu, March 8, 2010.

[145] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Masaka, February 22, 2010.

[146] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Masaka, February 22, 2010.