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Journalist held on treason charges granted bail

UPDATE: Former radio presenter freed on bail but still facing possible trial (RSF, 3 August 2012)

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - 3 July 2012 - High Court in Kampala has granted bail to a journalist suspected of treason after a year in jail. He however has been remanded to Luzira prison after failing to pay the bail money. Augustine Okello, a radio presenter at Rhino FM (a branch of Top Radio) in Lira was bonded on UG.X 8 million (approx. US$3200) cash bail which he failed to pay, sending his wife Christine Okello into tears. This was the third bail application after the previous two attempts were rejected.

He was granted bail due to his worsening health condition notably chest pain, high blood pressure and ulcers which have degenerated since his arrest and detention. The court presided over by Justice Lameck Mukasa granted the bail application but with stringent conditions ruling that Okello should deposit his land title and passport with the Registrar of the criminal division of the High Court. He is to report to the Lira District Police Commander every Monday and to the Deputy Registrar of the Criminal Division of Lira every third day of the month. His movement beyond Lira Municipality is also restricted unless with explicit permission from the Registrar of Lira High Court.

Okello's sureties included a businessman Ogwengi Micheal, a teacher Adonyo David, Enyanga Joel a pharmacist at Lira National Referral hospital and Ekol Frank a close family friend. The HRNJ-Uganda lawyer defending Duncan Ondimu said this bail was a milestone which would give him more time to prepare for the trial. “It's a welcome development. We can now concentrate on the trial itself.” He remarked soon after securing the bail.

Okello was kidnapped on the evening of 13th July 2011 in Lira District under unclear circumstances. He was detained incommunicado for more than two weeks and only produced after Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) filed for habeas corpus at the High Court in Lira which pressurized security agencies. He was later presented to Buganda Road court.He is the second journalist from Northern Uganda to be charged with treason after Mega FM's Otim Patrick who was kidnapped in a similar way. Otim has since been acquitted of the charges along with 13 other suspects.Okello was charged with treason on 1st/Aug/2011 and committed to trial in the High Court on 6th January 2012.

“HRNJ-Uganda welcomes this development and commends the court for exercising its mandate. We believe that Okello is innocent, but only a victim of persecution. The release of the journalist is grand victory to the journalism fraternity. We appeal to the court to hear and dispose of this matter expeditiously,” said HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

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