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Monday, August 24, 2009

Uganda: Monitor Editors in Cells for Critical Reporting

Eve Mashoo

Kampala — The arrest and commencement of court proceedings against two Monitor editors for publishing contents of the President's July 15 proposing that certain elective political positions be restricted to only indigenous natives in Bunyoro sub-region yesterday drew wide condemnation.

The leaders who spoke to this newspaper on Saturday were unanimous in their view that the government's "high-handedness" was unnecessary. Ms Salaam Musumba, the vice president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), said: "This is an indicator of a failing or decayed and dictatorial system and therefore government needs to look into [themselves] instead of going for the messenger".

Ms Musumba observed that this was not the first time such an incident has happened and it signalled all journalists that they are at risk. Mr Barnabas Tinkasiimire, an 'immigrant' in Bunyoro and MP for Buyaga County, Kibaale District, said the charges were misplaced. Mr Tinkasiimire comes from the ethnic Bakiga community whose presence in parts of Bunyoro is at the heart of the current national debate sparked by the President's letter.

"I don't find any basis why these journalists were prosecuted, there is just no reason whatsoever and right now this government has gone too far," he said.

Mr Tinkasiimire added that President Museveni knew what he was writing and cannot now turn around and blame "innocent people".

"We won't allow such acts to continue", he noted.

For Makerere University political historian, Mr Mwambustya Ndebesa, the State is attempting damage control. "This is not fair enough as journalists [they] were doing their work as the fourth estate of government and citizens," said Mr Ndebesa. Adding, "I think government has put in place damage control since the letter has received a lot of attention both locally and internationally and now wants to regain its legitimacy".

Mr Ochieng and Mr Kalinaki in court cells before they were released on bail.

The ruling National Resistance Movement's vice chairman for eastern Uganda, Capt. Mike Mukula, said: "the press is the fourth estate of government, what we need to do is build a harmonious relationship. It is therefore important for those in government to understand that leaks out of government into the media are normal all over the world. Rather than harassing the media, government develops a common medium of information exchange; what government needs to do is plug and reduce leaks.

"The media in this country is young and vibrant, what government needs to do is to find common ways and means of working with the media while following the principles of patriotism and nationalism. No media in the world should be suffocated for the sake of the broader tenets of democracy."

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