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Ahead of elections, authorities crack down on media

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Journalists at "The Independent" were detained on 28 August for publishing this cartoon of Uganda's President

The Independent

As tensions build in the lead-up to the 2011 general elections in Uganda, so do criminal charges and prosecutions against journalists, say the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and local rights groups. Four journalists from the "Monitor", Uganda's largest independent paper, are facing criminal prosecutions, while three other independent journalists have been accused of sedition, reports CPJ.

In August, President Yoweri Museveni "warned private broadcasters against inciting public discontent with the government," says CPJ. He is expected to seek re-election.

In the capital, Kampala, David Kalinaki, managing editor of the "Daily Monitor", and Henry Ochieng, editor of the "Sunday Monitor", were charged with forgery in August after the paper ran a reproduction of a leaked presidential memorandum. The "Monitor" had acknowledged some errors and published a correction. A government spokesperson criticised the media's coverage of the story, but did not dispute the document's contents, according to local and international reports.

In a separate case, in the northern city of Gulu, magistrate Michael Okonya rejected a petition by "Monitor" reporter Moses Akena, who was charged with libel on 10 August, to suspend his trial pending the outcome of a constitutional challenge of criminal libel statutes before Uganda's Supreme Court, says CPJ.

"Monitor" photojournalist Stephen Otage is also fighting charges of "criminal trespass" for taking photographs of the Inspector General of Government outside a courthouse in July, says CPJ.

"We are alarmed by the growing crackdown on independent and critical reporting in general, and on 'Monitor' in particular ahead of the elections," said CPJ. "We hope the Supreme Court strikes down criminal defamation laws, which would bring Uganda further in line with the practice of most democratic countries."

Meanwhile, the authorities interrogated managing editor Andrew Mwenda, editor Charles Bichachi, and assistant news editor Joseph Were of the bimonthly newsmagazine "The Independent", for four hours on 28 August because of a cartoon they published of Museveni, says CPJ.

The 21 August cartoon spoofs Museveni's controversial decision to reappoint members of the embattled electoral commission to supervise the 2011 general election. The Supreme Court ruled that in the 2005 election the electoral commission allowed irregularities including bribery, ballot-stuffing and voter disenfranchisement.

The three journalists were told to return for more questioning so officers can continue to press them for the motive, according to Kampala-based Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ).

A formal sedition charge from 2005 is one of 21 criminal charges pending against Mwenda, Uganda's best-known political editor and a 2008 CPJ awardee, says CPJ.

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