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Journalist arrested by First Lady's security guards, risks sedition charges

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Ntungamo, 1 May 2012 - Perez Rumanzi, a freelance reporter with the Daily Monitor in Ntungamo District who was arrested by the Special Forces Group (SFG) that were guarding the first Lady Janet Museveni, has been released on bond after two days in police custody. He risks charges of sedition.

Rumanzi, 27, was arrested by the SFG personnel, who ordered the police to detain him for allegedly interfering with the security of the First Lady. He was covering the installation of the members of South Ankole Diocese synod at St. Mathew Cathedral Kyamate in Ntungamo district where Ms. Museveni was the chief guest.

The SFG spokesperson, Capt. Edson Kwesiga is quoted to have said that Rumanzi had been allowed to cover the function but his conduct necessitated that he be stopped. He went on to say that the reporter was arrested after he told security personnel that their time in government would also end.

Rumanzi told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that he was a victim of persecution because he had been cleared earlier that morning to cover the function. “I was cleared by security to cover the function, but when I left the place to off-load pictures from my memory card, I returned and continued taking others but security people told me I should leave because I had not been cleared. When they told me to go away, I went and kept the camera and returned to attend the service because I had just been cleared in the morning. They then said that they did not want me there. They arrested me and called on the police to detain me. When I demanded to know what crime I had committed, they said that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

Upon being told that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Rumanzi short back saying, “It will once be a right place at a right time for journalists when we have our freedom. . .”

He said that he did not see the charge sheet while entering and coming out of the cell, but the officer in charge of crime investigations at the police told him that he was likely to be charged with sedition. The Daily Monitor Bureau Chief for Mbarara Alfred Tumushabe told HRNJ-Uganda that Rumanzi's bond papers had the offence of obstruction.

HRNJ-Uganda commends the professional way in which the police handled the matter, and the fact that Rumanzi was not tortured while in detention and was allowed access to his people.

“We however are concerned by the way the first lady's security personnel treated the journalist. This is not the first time that Rumanzi has been turned away from covering such functions. It is a violation of media freedom and rights provided by the Constitution. The police should not use a nullified law of sedition to charge a journalist. The matter should also be expedited to give Rumanzi a right to defend himself in a fair process,” said the HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala

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