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Radio talk show hosts questioned after opposition leader appears on show

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Kampala, 7 June 2011 - The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) has questioned two radio talk show hosts for hosting the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) president Dr. Kiiza Besigye on their show.

Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi who hosts KFM's "Hot seat" and his co-host Bernard Tabaire were interrogated at the Naguru based SIU for more than one and a half hours. They were accompanied by the "Daily Monitor" lawyer James Nangwala and company secretary Ms. Anne Abeja.

SIU is a newly established department in the Uganda Police Force (UPF) whose mandate is not statutory-based and its powers are not known.

The two were first summoned by SIU on 23 May 2011 to reportedly help police in their investigations into the activities of a new pressure group called Activists for Change (A4C).

A4C is a loose coalition of human rights activists and politicians formed to draw the government's attention to the current sky-rocketing fuel and commodity prices. Since April 2011 when A4C started its activities, more than 10 unarmed Ugandans have been shot and killed and hundreds injured. Journalists suffered the wrath of the military and police during the Walk to Work protests and previous protests. Dozens were physically attacked, shot, intimidated, their equipment confiscated by security operatives and their recordings erased. Some media offices and printing houses were also raided.

A letter signed by SIU Commandant Grace Akullu outlined that police had opened a General Inquiry File, number 52/2011, and requested that the KFM journalists be interviewed and compelled to give statements.

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) has learnt that the two gave their recordings to the police and were questioned by two detectives, namely Felix Tulihamwe and Balaam Bwengye.

"We were interrogated separately and ordered to record statements. The detectives pushed questions which were intended to force us to reveal what transpired outside the studio, but we insisted and referred them to the recordings of the talk show," said Mwanguhya.

He said such police actions will not deter them from performing their watchdog function. The number of journalists who have appeared before the SIU is now three. Prior to this, "Daily Monitor" journalist Tabu Butagira was also questioned over an interview he conducted with Dr. Kiiza Besigye which was later published by the paper.

"The media work is being endangered by police actions since it is used as a source of information to incriminate some members of the public. I fear that such actions will trigger attacks against the media from the public," said HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

HRNJ-Uganda demands that police desist from compelling media practitioners to participate in its investigations and act as witnesses.

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