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Regional free expression group calls on president to respect press freedom

(MFWA/IFEX) - The following is a 29 May 2008 joint statement by eight IFEX members and other members of the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO):

Call on President Yoweri Museveni to respect press freedom

The Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO) has observed the escalating attacks and harassment of press freedom, media and journalists in Uganda.

The latest development occurred on April 26, 2008, with the raids by Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) on the offices of privately-owned newspaper "The Independent" and the home of its publisher, Andrew Mwenda. After ransacking the two places, CMI personnel seized various documents and press equipment including lap-tops, desktop computers, video-cassettes, flash-disks and CD-ROMs.

Apart from Andrew Mwenda, the military agents arrested two journalists of "The Independent"; namely, Odobo Bichachi and John Njoroge. The three were taken to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID). They were released on bail a few hours later. The intelligence personnel were searching for materials after the newspaper published testimonies of people who have been detained incommunicado and tortured for several years in Ugandan prisons.

NAFEO condemns this assault, which is a blatant violation of press freedom. It also denounces the use of seditious and anti-terrorism legislation to silence free media by pushing them toward self censorship.

As a signatory to most of the relevant international conventions on human rights, particularly the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, Uganda should give effect to these instruments. We therefore call on the Government of President Yoweri Museveni to:

1. Drop all charges against "The Independent" and its journalists
2. End the harassment of journalists and other people expressing themselves
3. Return all seized items to the newspaper and its publisher
4. Repeal unlawful legislation that criminalises speech.

Issued by NAFEO, Accra, May 29, 2008

Signatories:
1. Journaliste en Danger (JED)
2. Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
3. Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA)
4. Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
5. Africa Free Media Foundation (AFMF)
6. Association for Media Development in Southern Sudan (AMDIS)
7. National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT)
8. Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA)
9. Inter-Africa Network for Women, Media, Gender Equity & Development, (FAMEDEV)
10. Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)
11. Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)
12. Organisation des Medias d'Afrique Centrale (OMAC)
13. Observatoire Togolais des Medias (OTM)
14. Panos Institute West Africa (PIWA)
15. Somali Coalition for Free Expression (SCFE)
16. The All Africa Editors Forum (TAEF)
17. West Africa Journalists Association (WAJA)
18. Union des Radios & Televisions libres du Togo (URATEL)
19. Centre for Research Education & Development of FOX & Association Rights (CREDO)
20. Working Group for Press Freedom and Free Expression in North Africa (WGFENA)

The Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO) promotes and defends freedom of press and expression in the continent. It was established in October 2005 by several significant freedom of expression Organisations in Africa.

Media Foundation for West Africa

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