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Ugandan Unity FM radio station raided, taken off air and journalists arrested

People listen to the radio as the results of the Uganda presidential elections are announced in a Kampala suburb, 20 February 2016
People listen to the radio as the results of the Uganda presidential elections are announced in a Kampala suburb, 20 February 2016

ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on hrnjuganda.org on 21 November 2018.

Unity FM radio based in Lira remains shut down since 17 November, 2018 when the Lira District Police Commander (DPC) Joel Tubanone stormed the radio station with heavily armed police personnel and military officers, switched off the radio and picked six staff on allegations of inciting violence.

On 17 November 2018, at around 3:20 P.M, police arrested six (6) Unity FM journalists and two other clients who were found at the station for business. The arrest was allegedly on the orders of the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Milton Odong for allegedly inciting the violence.

Those arrested include: Charles Odongo, technical director; Keneth Opio, Assistant station manager; Felix Ogwang, presenter; Moses Alwala, news reporter; Micheal Ogwal, news anchor; Aron Ebwola, producer; and Okello Emmanuel Zumulamai and Junior Engola, both clients who had brought business announcements from the station.

The six Unity FM staff were however released on Monday 19 November 2018, but re-arrested the following day at Lira Central Police Station where they had reported to renew their bond.

DPC Tubanone confirmed the re-arrest when contacted by Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda. "We gave them bond on Monday because the 48 hours had expired, we received a call from the State Attorney yesterday that their file was ready. So when the suspects reported, we rearrested them but we are taking them to court anytime now," said Tubanone.

The Director of Unity FM, Uhuru Jimmy confirmed to HRNJ-Uganda that the DPC Joel Tubanone, RDC Odong Milton and the District Internal Security Officer a one Gilbert, stormed his radio station and arrested six journalists alongside two clients who were at the station. He described the attack on the station as political persecution stemming from the radio consistently holding different district leaders to account to the local community on service delivery as a result of funds received from the government.

The Unity FM Station Manager, Sam Atul told HRNJ-Uganda that the other two staff members Akena Rolex and Otto Bill who were held up inside the station without any justifiable reason for four days were released on the evening of Tuesday 20 November 2018 without any charges preferred against them.

Efforts to get a comment from the RDC were futile as he was engaged in a meeting. The journalists have since been released again and ordered to report to the police daily at 10am local time.

The arrest and subsequent shutting down of Unity FM was as a result of the radio relaying live events of the burial ceremony of Dickens Okello, an eleven year old pupil of Alito Primary School in Lira District. It is alleged that Okello was killed by two Asian nationals on 9 November 2018 on his way back home. The local people were not satisfied with the manner in which the police in Lira had handled the matter, hence prompting them to riot.

"The locking up of the two staff members inside the station was an illegal detention which must be challenged in court. The radio station should be re-opened to allow for negotiations in a bid to build peace and flourishing business relationship with the locals. We hope that this matter is handled cautiously to avoid inflaming the peace in the area," said the HRNJ-Uganda Executive Director, Robert Ssempala.

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