Ugandan authorities should immediately drop all charges against radio journalist Richard Mungu Jakican, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police entered the studios of the privately owned station Radio North FM in the northern Ugandan city of Lira the night of February 13 and arrested Jakican in the middle of his talk radio show, according to press accounts and the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, an advocacy group. Police also detained seven politicians who were discussing a recent presidential debate on the show, the group said.
CPJ has documented a worsening pattern of harassment and intimidation of journalists in Uganda as presidential elections scheduled to take place February 18 approach. In recent days, the government has deployed military troops throughout urban centers, an act which some opposition candidates have criticized as intended to intimidate voters,according to reports. President Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa's longest-serving rulers, is seeking to extend his 30-year stay in power.
"Pulling a journalist and his guests away from the microphone in the middle of a radio show is shocking, crude censorship," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. "All charges against Richard Mungu Jakican should be dropped immediately, and President Museveni should ensure that all voices can be heard in this campaign."
Prosecutors initially charged Jakican, who is also the news editor of the station, with malicious damage to property after police claimed he and the politicians he hosted had defaced Museveni's re-election posters during a break in the show. The charges were later amended to aiding and abetting a crime, an apparent reference to the damaged posters, and he was released on February 17 on bail of 200,000 Ugandan shillings (US$60).
Haruna Kanaabi, executive director of the Independent Media Council, an associationof journalists that campaigns for self-regulation of the media in Uganda, told CPJ he had conducted multiple interviews with colleagues of the journalist and found that there was no indication that any posters were defaced either by him or the politicians he hosted on his show.
Authorities have previously singled out radio stations, a particularly influential medium in rural Uganda, for unwelcome attention in the presidential campaign. On January 20, another station, Endigyito FM, was closed down after it hosted one of the opposition candidates, Amama Mbabazi. It remains closed.