A day after station is shut, Ugandan talk show host is arrested

New York, August 12, 2005—An independent radio and print journalist was arrested today in connection with a talk show focusing on the July helicopter crash that killed southern Sudanese leader John Garang. Andrew Mwenda, a journalist with Monitor Publications, was still in custody late this evening, according to sources at the news organization.

The arrest comes a day after Ugandan authorities shut down the Monitor group’s KFM radio station, citing the Wednesday night talk show hosted by Mwenda. The program featured a discussion of the helicopter crash and the threats by President Yoweri Museveni to shut any news outlet that “plays around with regional security.” The helicopter, which belonged to the Ugandan government, crashed on July 30 as it was transporting Garang back to Sudan from a meeting with Museveni.

Mwenda answered a police summons at around 7 p.m. local time and was asked a variety of questions about his work, including Wednesday’s talk show, according to a source at KFM. Monitor lawyers say he could be charged with sedition, according to sources at the news organization.

Monitor Publications Managing Director Conrad Nkutu described the detention as “an excessive reaction from the government.” He also said that the group will “use all legal means to defend our situation.”

“We call on President Museveni to ensure that Andrew Mwenda is released immediately and unconditionally and that KFM is allowed to reopen,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Arbitrary censorship and harassment of journalists is not something one expects to see in a democracy.”

In a speech on Wednesday, Museveni accused local media and Mwenda of threatening regional security by reporting on Garang’s Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, the Ugandan army, and other regional issues. Mwenda is also political editor at The Monitor, an independent daily owned by Monitor Publications, and his print reports have drawn the president’s ire. Two weeks ago, according to a CPJ source, he wrote articles on the strained relationship between Uganda and Rwanda.

Read CPJ’s news alert on the station closing.