Newspaper’s Web site and radio blocked during election vote count

New York, February 24, 2006—The Monitor Group said today its news Web site and radio station were being blocked within Uganda to prevent them from publishing early results from polling stations in Thursday’s crucial presidential election.

Readers were unable to access the Web site of Uganda’s leading independent daily, The Monitor, and broadcasts of station KFM were jammed, Monitor Group Managing Director Conrad Nkutu told the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Web site was accessible outside Uganda.

Nkutu said the Monitor Group was publishing a running vote tally based on actual results from polling stations that were phoned in to the group by election observers. The Electoral Commission is expected to announce official results on Saturday. Early results showed President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for two decades, in a commanding lead over his rival Kizza Besigye.

“We are deeply troubled that The Monitor‘s Web site and KFM are inaccessible during this important time,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “Ugandan authorities must ensure that independent media are able to report on the election results without interference, censorship, or reprisals.”

Nkutu said that he had received calls from the Uganda Broadcasting Council, the Electoral Commission, the police, and the Internal Affairs Ministry, all urging him to stop compiling independent results.

“We are very unhappy about the fact that someone who doesn’t want us to publish independent results… is disabling the Web site of our newspaper and jamming the signal of our radio station,” Nkutu said. “We have complained about this to the Minister of Internal Affairs, and I hope that he will take action to reverse the situation.”

Information Minister James Buturo declined to comment on allegations that KFM’s frequency was jammed. “It would not surprise me,” he told CPJ. “The radio station has been doing what it is not supposed to do by law. The work of announcing results is the work of the electoral commission.” He added that reporting independent results before they are officially confirmed “could lead to public disorder.”

Nkutu said his outlets had every right to publish results. “It’s absolutely not illegal,” he said.

Buturo denied that The Monitor‘s Web site was blocked by the government. “They’re just trying to save face [after being] at the forefront of campaigning for the opposition,” Buturo said.