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Radio presenter suspended over critical report

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Masaka, 28 February 2011 - A presenter at Masaka-based Top Radio, Ssozi Lyazi Ssekimpi, is reported to have been suspended over a talk show which discussed electoral malpractice witnessed during recent presidential and parliamentary elections.

Ssekimpi, who joined Top Radio four years ago, has been working as an editor and presenter of the weekly talk show "Voice of the People", aired between 11am-1pm local time.

Ssekimpi's suspension was announced immediately after he appeared before the Masaka police on 28 February at 10am. The journalist was questioned over the 26 February edition of the talk show, which had discussed the 18 February election violence and other malpractice.

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) has learnt that the programme specifically referred to the arrest of Masaka district returning officer Ephraim Tugume after he was accused of taking a bribe from a candidate who lost an election.

"We questioned the integrity of the embattled returning officer who declared the highly contested declaration of the Speaker of Parliament, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, as a winner for Bukoto East parliamentary seat," explained Ssekimpi.

Ssekimpi told HRNJ-Uganda that he was interrogated by three detectives for seven hours after which he was charged with inciting violence.

Sources told HRNJ-Uganda that Ssekimpi's suspension was influenced by an alleged letter, dated 28 February and addressed to radio manager Pr. Beatrice W. Kitende from key personalities in the government. However, HRNJ-Uganda has not obtained the letter yet.

When Kitende was contacted she confirmed the suspension of Ssekimpi but denied having received the letter. "We suspended him for being summoned by police and (because of) a complaint from the outgoing Member of Parliament for Bukoto East, Alintuma Nsambu. We are meeting as radio management on 4 March 2011 to study the content of the talk show," said Kitende.

She said the meeting will also be attended by officials from police and key personalities who listened to the show.

Sources added that the letter directed the radio manager to suspend Ssekimpi from conducting any activity at the station, including gathering news or hosting a talk show for a period of three months.

"It's absurd that radio managers in Uganda are being used by those in authority to silence critical voices. In a period of less than three years, more than 20 critical journalists have been sacked under duress, resulting in self censorship ranging from editorial, newsrooms and programming," said Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

Although the employer has the right to recruit and sack a worker, HRNJ-Uganda challenges the Top Radio management team investigating Ssekimpi to adhere to principles of justice, including by according him a fair hearing.

HRNJ-Uganda is also urging proprietors and managers of media houses to avoid succumbing to external pressure by ignoring media ethics and objective reporting.

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