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District commissioner threatens to file lawsuit against two journalists

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Kabale, 25 March 2011: The Kabale Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Cox Nyakairu has threatened to file a legal suit against two journalists who reported that he pulled out a gun to shoot a Umeme staff person. The RDC is also alleged to have mobilized communities to attack journalists, which the RDC denies. Umeme is an electricity service provider in Uganda.

Goodluck Musinguzi, a journalist with the "New Vision", and Robert Muhereza, who works for the "Daily Monitor", wrote stories alleging that Nyakairu pulled out a gun when a Umeme employee went to his home to disconnect the service over an enormous unpaid electricity bill. Nyakairu reportedly would not let the staff person go until the power was reconnected.

A number of radio stations in the area and national newspapers, including "New Vision", "Daily Monitor" and "Red Pepper", have run stories about the conduct of the RDC.

The RDC is a representative of the president whose constitutional mandate is to monitor the implementation of central and local government services in a given district, and the chairperson of the district security committee.

In a 25 March press conference, Nyakairu, flanked by his lawyers, vowed to take the two journalists to court for defamation and spreading false information. He also accused reporters of being used by his rivals to tarnish his name. The press conference received massive coverage by radio stations in the region until 28 March.

HRNJ-Uganda has noted the growing unease of the two journalists due to confrontations with members of the public.

"Since the press conference I have been confronted on different occasions by members of the public who were curious about (me) 'attacking' RDC Nyakairu in my news stories," said Musinguzi.

The journalist told an HRNJ-Uganda researcher that he wrote a well balanced story after contacting the various parties involved in the story, ranging from the RDC to Umeme officials. The Umeme staff confirmed that the company's technician, Godfrey Kirembeka, was threatened with a gun at the RDC's home.

HRNJ-Uganda has learnt that RDC Nyakairu owed Umeme four million eight hundred thousand Uganda shillings (UGX 4.8m) which has accumulated since 2008, when he was posted in Kabale district.

When HRNJ-Uganda contacted Nyakairu, he said he should not be accountable for his public reaction towards the two journalists. "They have offended the public, my relatives and friends (by) writing negative stories about me. It's within their rights to express discomfort, otherwise I am considering taking them to court," said Nyakairu.

"Journalists play an oversight role and they should not be punished for exposing ills in the society. Such good causes should be defended to encourage other media and journalists to do their role for the public good," said HRNJ-Uganda programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

Even though the RDC has the right to seek legal redress. HRNJ-Uganda is concerned about the public reaction in this matter because it is likely to compromise the security of the journalists.

HRNJ-Uganda calls for prompt intervention by the appointing authority and the Uganda Police Force (UPF) to investigate RDC Nyakairu and ensure that he is punished for his misconduct.

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