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Journalist released on bail after brief detention

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - 1 June 2011 - Timothy Kalyegira, the managing editor of "The Uganda Record" online magazine who was remanded to the Luzira prison on charges of criminal libel, has been released on bail.

On 31 May, James Wambeya, a Grade II Magistrate at the Kampala City Hall Court, remanded Kalyegira after reading charges stating that the editor defamed Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in articles published in "The Uganda Record".

The prosecution has alleged that between 12 and 15 July 2010, Kalyegira, with the objective of defaming the president, published articles stating that the government was behind the planting of bombs that went off on 11 July, killing more than 80 Ugandans at the Ethiopian Village restaurant in Kabalagala and at the Rugby Club in Lugogo.

Section 179 of the Penal Code Act of 1950 states: "Any person who, by print, writing, painting, effigy or by any means otherwise than solely by gestures, spoken words or other sounds, unlawfully publishes any defamatory matter concerning another person, with intent to defame that other person, commits the misdemeanour termed libel."

The law is being challenged in the Supreme Court by a group of journalists led by Barnard Tabaire.

The government blamed the bombings on al-Shabab, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda.

Kalyegira was interrogated by security personnel at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). His home was subsequently searched and his laptop, cell phone, internet modem and passport were confiscated.

Kalyegira, who was accompanied by a team of lawyers led by Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi as well as a team of senior journalists and the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda), was remanded until 6 June 2011, when he was to enter a plea to the charges.

Grade I magistrate Juliet Hatanga, who has jurisdiction to handle the case and to allow the editor to enter his plea, was reportedly not present.

Kalyegira has been harassed by police since he was interrogated and first charged with sedition, then released on police bond from the Kira Road police station on 3 August 2010.

HRNJ-Uganda has learned that Kalyegira applied for a passport to enable him to travel to South Africa to attend a Google conference.

Kalyegira, who denied the charges, was released after Grade I magistrate Hatanga granted him a non-cash bail of one million shillings (approx. US$420). The education editor for the "Daily Monitor" newspaper, Charles Mwanguhya, and investigations editor Chris Obore, as well as Makindye West MP Hussein Kyanjo stood as sureties for Kalyegira. Each was bonded for two million shillings non-cash (approx. US$820)).

"These cases are intended to frustrate critical journalism in Uganda. This one in particular cannot be proven in court since the law requires quoting a place where the crime was committed from, which does not apply in this case involving an online publication," said HRNJ-Uganda Board Chairperson Robert Ssempala. He added that old laws are being used in internet cases in Uganda and that in a just society libel must be handled as a civil rather than a criminal offense.

HRNJ-Uganda calls on the judiciary to quash the law because it undermines the right to freedom of expression and the ability to question those in public office.

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