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Ugandan tabloid "Red Pepper" charged with defaming Libyan president, editor objects to harassment

(Media Institute/IFEX) - The editors of Uganda's "Red Pepper" tabloid have been charged with criminal defamation for publishing a story alleging that Libyan President Col. Muammar Gadaffi was having an adulterous relationship with Best Kemigisha, the Queen Mother of King Oyo Nyimba of Tooro Kingdom.

Tooro is one of the kingdoms that merged to form Uganda at independence and, like several others, has a constitutionally recognised but ceremonial traditional ruler.

In early February 2009, "Red Pepper" began publishing stories alleging that Kemigisha was in love with the Libyan leader.

The stories prompted the Libyan ambassador to Uganda, Abdallah Bujeldain, to engage a prominent law firm, Muwema, Mugerwa Advocates and Solicitors, to file criminal charges against Editor-in-chief Richard Tusiime and news editor Francis Mutazindwa.

On 18 February, the two editors were formally charged with defamation of a foreign prince contrary to section 53 of the Penal Code which states that, "Any person who, without such justification or excuse as would be sufficient in the case of the defamation of a private person, publishes anything intended to be read, or any sign or visible representation, tending to degrade, revile or expose to hatred or contempt any foreign prince, potentate, ambassador, or other foreign dignitary with intent to disturb peace and friendship between Uganda and the country to which such prince, potentate, ambassador or dignitary belongs, commits a misdemeanour." If found guilty, the editors could be jailed for up to two years. The journalists have denied the charges and will next appear in court on 18 March.

State criminal cases are usually prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) but the law allows for private prosecution. Tusiime told the Media Institute in a telephone interview that he does not object to being charged, but he is concerned that the prosecutors are abusing their power and the role of the state. "They are just using the state to harass us. They are using the police which they will not pay, the DPP whom they will not pay," observed Tusiime.

State Prosecutor Emmanuel Ojambo told Buganda Road Court in Kampala, where the charges were filed, that the constitution permits the state to take over the case.

"The DPP is taking over this case with a view of conducting thorough investigations," Ojambo told the court room, which was attended by the Libyan ambassador and journalists. Gadaffi is also demanding US$1 billion in damages.

Libya's ambassador to Uganda, Abdallah Bujeldain, filed an affidavit stating that Gadaffi was being defamed by the continuous publication of related stories by the "Red Pepper" newspaper.

The Magistrate then granted his request and issued an order, compelling "Red Pepper" to stop publishing allegations that Gadaffi is involved in a love triangle.

"Red Pepper" is the most sued publication in Uganda because it deals with the lifestyles of celebrities and other public officials.

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