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Journalist freed on bail, faces sedition charges

(WiPC/IFEX) - Journalist Kalundi Serumaga, arrested on 11 September 2009, was freed on bail of US$250 on 15 September to face trial on charges of sedition. International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) is concerned that he is charged solely for comments made during a television interview that criticised the Ugandan government. Should he be convicted as charged, this would be a clear breach of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Kalundi Serumaga (also Sserumaga) was arrested at 11 pm (local time) as he left the studios of WBS Television in Kampala where he had participated in a debate in which he had been critical of Ugandan President Museveni. Eyewitnesses report that he was bundled into a waiting car and taken away. Two hours later it was disclosed that he was being held in the Kampala Central Police Station. He was later transferred to the International Hospital in Kampala to receive treatment for injuries he sustained under severe police beatings.

On 15 September, Serumaga was formally charged under six counts of sedition under Sections 39 (1) (a) and 40 (1) (b) of the Penal Code. Each count refers to comments he made during a discussion on the "Kibazo on Friday Live Talk Show and Phone-in Programme", broadcast on 11 September. He is accused of "intention to bring into hatred, contempt and to excite disaffection against the person of the President, and the Government . . . " On reading the charge sheet, International PEN concludes that while strongly critical of the authorities, none of the contentious statements can be considered as incitement to violence. Serumaga was freed on payment of US$250 bail. To read the charge sheet go to the East Africa Press website: http://www.eastafricapress.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=75&Itemid=


BACKGROUND:

Violence broke out when the government banned the King of Buganda, one of the four tribal regions in Uganda, to the neighbouring Kayunga district. Over 20 people are said to have been killed, and 550 others, including Serumaga, have reportedly been arrested to face trial.

Serumaga is a respected writer and journalist and popular host of a daily radio talk show, "Spectrum". On 14 September the allAfrica.com website published an article by Serumaga on the disturbances entitled "Things fall apart - Again . . . " Here he discusses the background to the riots. He opens his piece: "Most people are familiar with the proverbial last straw that broke the camel's back. However, rarely does anyone get to see the actual straw, and the moment it is laid on. The final stages of the breakdown of the always troubled relationship between Buganda and Uganda's NRM-led central government, may provide just the opportunity for such a rare sighting".

For the full article go to: http://allafrica.com/stories/200909140844.html

For more go to: Reports on clashes in Kampala:
http://allafrica.com/view/group/main/main/id/00010777.html

BBC News:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8251907.stm


RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to authorities:

- expressing concern that Kalundi Serumaga faces trial on charges of sedition for his outspoken criticism of the government handling of recent violent disturbances in Uganda

- pointing out that should he be convicted as charged, this would be a clear breach of Article 19 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which it acceded in 1995 and which specifically guarantees the right to freedom of expression

- urging that there be a full and impartial investigation into reports that Serumaga was ill treated in custody, and that any person found responsible be brought to prosecution.


APPEALS TO:

President
Yoweri Museveni
Parliament Building
PO Box 7168
Kampala, Uganda
Fax: + 256 414 346 102
E-mail: [email protected]
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister for Security
Amama Mbabazi
Ministry of Security
Office of the President
P.O. Box 7168
Kampala, Uganda
Fax: +256 414 344012
Salutation: Dear Minister

If sending appeals after 24 September 2009, please contact WiPC for any updates.

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