Washington, November 20, 2008--On the day Ugandan
editor Andrew Mwenda was introduced here as a recipient of a CPJ International
Press Freedom Award, police back home summoned the journalist for questioning
over his magazine's hard-hitting political coverage.
"Right now we don't know why they are looking for us, but you can be sure that regardless of what they do, we will continue to
be journalists, even if they torture us or even kill us. That you can trust,"
Mwenda, founder of The Independent, told
reporters at a press conference here today.
Mwenda was introduced at the National Press Club along with
other recipients of CPJ's International Press Freedom Awards, including Danish
Karokhel and Farida Nekzad, founders of Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News.
Representatives of two other awardees--photographer Bilal Hussein of The
Associated Press and imprisoned Cuban journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez--appeared
on their behalf. Zimbabwean media lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, recipient of CPJ's
Burton Benjamin Award for lifetime achievement, spoke as well.
assistant, John Rubanjwa, told CPJ from the Ugandan capital, Kampala, that plainclothes agents with the Criminal Investigation Department delivered a summons for Mwenda at 3 p.m.
local time today. Charles Bichachi, a top Independent
editor who also received a summons, said agents told the magazine they wanted
to interrogate editors about coverage deemed "prejudicial" to state security.
The agents did not elaborate, he said.
Such summonses are a common tactic in
where the government regularly deploys security agents to harass, detain, and
interrogate critical journalists. Mwenda's magazine has been critical of President
Yoweri Museveni's administration, particularly its spending practices and
handling of a rebel conflict in the country's north. In all, Mwenda is fighting
21 criminal charges, including sedition and "promoting sectarianism." He has
challenged the constitutionality of the charges in court.
"The journalists and media
activists assembled along with me here have risked their lives and liberty to
bring us the news." CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon
told reporters at today's press conference. Noting the escalating risk to the
press in Afghanistan,
Simon called the work of Karokhel and Nekzad's news agency more vital than ever. Mtetwa, he noted, has successfully
defended numerous journalists facing criminal charges filed by Zimbabwe's
Simon also called for the release
of Maseda Gutiérrez, one of 21 independent journalists now imprisoned in
Cuba. Only China
jails more journalists than the island nation.
Hussein is now free, but he spent
two years imprisoned by the U.S.
military in Iraq.
He was never charged with a crime and the military never produced any evidence
to support his detention. Steve Hurst, AP's Baghad bureau chief during
Hussein's detention, described visiting the photographer in prison. Hussein was
astonished at the situation. "There are real criminals in here with me," the
photographer told Hurst,
"and they have been released. Why am I still here?" The military has yet to
The awards ceremony will be held at the
Waldorf-Astoria in New York
on Tuesday, November 25. See details and biographical sketches of the awardees.