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Court dismisses case against journalist

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - 5 October 2010 - A court has dismissed sedition charges against former Radio One presenter Robert Kalundi Sserumaga, in line with a Constitutional Court ruling.

On 25 August 2010, the Constitutional Court nullified sections 39 and 40 of the Penal Code Act, which relate to sedition charges. A panel of five judges ruled that these sections of the Penal Code Act were unconstitutional and inconsistent with Article 29 (1) of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.

Sserumaga was kidnapped and put in a car boot by security operatives on 11 September 2009 after attending a TV show ("Kibazo Friday") on the Kampala-based private television station Wavah Broadcasting Services (WBS TV). He was then tortured and kept incommunicado for more than eight hours. Sserumaga was later dumped at the Central Police Station in Kampala, where he was kept for three days before being charged with several counts of sedition.

The state accused Sserumaga of making statements that "disaffected the person" of the president. He was among eighteen journalists who lost their jobs under duress during the riots that took place in September 2009. While appearing before magistrate Mathias Tumwijukye at the Buganda Road Court, defence lawyer David Mpanga said it was unlawful for the court to continue trying the journalist under a law that was scrapped from the Ugandan law books.

Mpanga also asked the court to discharge Sserumaga's sureties, namely: Lubaga North MP Betty Kamya, Rubaga South MP Susan Nampijja and activists Richard Mugisha and Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

Although the attorney general's chambers objected to the dismissal, magistrate Tumwijukye went ahead and dismissed the case.

As a rights protection body, the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) applauds the court's decision. "Such court decisions will help the media in Uganda to regain the lost glory as we approach the 2011 general election," HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala said. HRNJ-Uganda, however, demands that the remaining eight journalists who are being tried on sedition charges be set free.

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