Police close church-owned radio station

New York, June 25, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed that Ugandan authorities have closed the Catholic Church­owned Radio Kyoga Veritas FM, in the northeastern town of Soroti, for airing reports about fighting in the region between government forces and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

On the afternoon of Sunday, June 22, police raided the offices of the Soroti Catholic Diocese Integrated Development Organization, where the station is located, and stopped all radio broadcasts. Officers searched the premises, confiscating audiotapes and documents, and did not allow the station’s staff to leave until that evening. Employees have not been allowed to return to the station’s offices since.

Radio Kyogo Veritas broadcasts to 14 districts in eastern and northern Uganda.

Sources in Soroti said that at a June 17 security meeting in Soroti, Ugandan minister of state for refugees and disaster preparedness Christine Amongin Aporu directed all radio stations in the area to stop airing news or talk shows about the LRA attacks.

In the days preceding the police raid, Radio Kyoga Veritas FM had broadcast interviews with people affected by the fighting. Station manager Father Athanasius Mubiru told CPJ that authorities were particularly angered by a show that featured interviews with people who had been abducted and subsequently released by the LRA. Because the interviewees said that they had not been mistreated in captivity, government officials accused the station of acting “subversively” and of promoting the rebel cause, according to Mubiru. He said Radio Veritas was also accused of “sensationalism” for allegedly inciting panic and causing people to flee their homes.

“We are trying to help people make decisions concerning their security, and to allow them to find their relatives” Father Mubiru said. “Only involvement of the people in conflict resolution will help bring this crisis to an end. For that they need correct information.”

“It is outrageous that Ugandan authorities would shut down Radio Veritas for reporting on the conflict, a matter of vital public interest,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We urge Ugandan authorities to allow the station to resume broadcasting immediately.”

LRA rebels have been fighting government forces in northern Uganda for 15 years. In October 2002, police raided the offices of the independent daily The Monitor in the capital, Kampala, after the paper published a story alleging that LRA fighters had shot down an army helicopter.