April 3, 2000
H.E. Yoweri K. Museveni
Office of the President
Via Fax: (256) 41 235 459
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom worldwide, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the ongoing prosecution of newscaster Frank Bagonza Kimoone and reporter Joseph Kasimbazi of the community radio station Voice of Tooro.
On the evening of February 16, military intelligence officers in Fortportal, a town in western Uganda, arrested Kimoone in connection with a February 15 Voice of Tooro broadcast alleging that three dozen civilians from Kijura, a small village near Fortportal, had been massacred the previous night by rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
Kasimbazi was arrested on February 17 at the Muhoti military barracks, where he had gone to inquire about Kimoone's welfare. The two journalists were held in a small, dirty cell along with common criminals and a group of nine suspected rebel collaborators. They were denied food and water for the first 24 hours of their week-long illegal detention.
According to Ugandan journalists, Kasimbazi learned of the alleged massacre from a Kijura village council leader, who called him at his home at around 7 a.m. on February 15. Kasimbazi then contacted Al Faruk Katto, the regional representative of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), who acknowledged receiving similar reports from the same source.
Kimoone read Kasimbazi's report over the air at 9 a.m. that same morning, quoting "unconfirmed reports from Kijura" to the effect that three dozen villagers had been killed by ADF rebels. An hour later, however, it became clear that no such thing had happened. Voice of Toroo then aired a correction and an apology in English and in several local dialects.
Kimoone and Kasimbazi appeared before Chief Magistrate Roy Byaruhanga in Fortportal on February 21. They were charged with "sedition and publication of false and alarmist news" and released on US$170 bail each, pending further investigations. Their next court appearance is scheduled for April 24. Meanwhile, they have not been allowed to resume their professional activities and have received several anonymous death threats.
Kimoone and Kasimbazi have already corrected the record and apologized for their honest mistake. They should certainly not be held criminally liable for the fact that their sources gave them faulty information. We respectfully remind Your Excellency that the Republic of Uganda is a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which clearly stipulates that no one, including journalists, should be prosecuted for seeking, receiving, and circulating information.
CPJ urges Your Excellency to ensure that all charges against Kimoone and Kasimbazi are immediately and unconditionally dropped, and that they are allowed to practice their profession without fear of reprisal.
Ann K. Cooper