CPJ condemns sedition charge against radio talk show host

New York, August 15, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists denounces the sedition charge brought today against radio talk show host Andrew Mwenda for remarks last week on the independent KFM radio station. The station also remained off the air today, four days after the government forced its closing in retaliation for the show, which focused on the July helicopter crash that killed southern Sudanese leader John Garang.

Mwenda, a print and radio journalist for the independent Monitor Publications, pleaded not guilty and was released on bail. The charge carries a prison sentence of up to five years, according to Monitor Publications lawyer James Nangwala. Mwenda was arrested on Friday and held for three days.

Mwenda was accused of seeking to “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection” against President Yoweri Museveni, according to The Associated Press. The charge stemmed from his broadcast remarks last Wednesday suggesting that government incompetence led to the July 30 crash of the Ugandan presidential helicopter.

Talks continued between the Ugandan authorities and representatives of Monitor Publications, as well as its parent company, Nation Media Group of Kenya, to allow KFM to reopen, according to CPJ sources. Uganda’s Broadcasting Council ordered the station closed the day after Mwenda’s live talk show.

Museveni has threatened to shut any news outlet that “plays around with regional security.”

“The Ugandan government’s targeting of Andrew Mwenda, together with official threats against the independent press, have cast a deep chill over Uganda’s independent media,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The government should not be using criminal charges to punish a reporter for his work. We call on the government to allow KFM to reopen and to drop these charges against our colleague immediately.”

Read CPJ’s news alert on Mwenda’s arrest.