Canadian freelance journalist prevented from returning

New York, March 9, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the expulsion today of a Canadian freelance journalist who reported from Uganda for more than two years for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the London-based magazine The Economist, and other outlets.

Blake Lambert told CPJ that authorities at Kampala airport prevented him from re-entering Uganda and put him on a plane to neighboring Kenya. His expulsion follows the Ugandan authorities’ failure to renew Lambert’s media accreditation, on which his residency permit depended. On Saturday, when his accreditation expired, Lambert left Uganda voluntarily for South Africa. He said he had not been told that he could not return.

Lambert returned to Kampala to collect his personal belongs and applied for a visitor visa at the airport immigration office. However, security agents approached him, confiscated his passport and cell phone, and put him onto a flight to Nairobi.

“It is outrageous that Ugandan authorities have deported a respected journalist,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “Expelling Blake Lambert, especially in light of other recent attacks on independent journalists in Uganda, puts into question Uganda’s commitment to press freedom.”

It was unclear who gave the order to expel Lambert, who had covered donor nations’ disenchantment with President Yoweri Museveni, the government’s AIDS strategy, and the ongoing trial of Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s main political opponent, who was detained for over a month before February’s presidential election, and who faces treason charges.

On January 24, CPJ wrote to Ugandan authorities to express concern over the harassment of several foreign correspondents in the lead-up to the election, which Museveni won amid complaints of voting irregularities by opposition parties and international rights groups.

The letter noted that Lambert’s work permit had not been renewed, and questioned whether political influence was a factor in granting accreditation to correspondents. CPJ received no official reply. (For more information, see CPJ’s letter.)

On March 4, the local independent daily The Monitor reported that the chairman of Uganda’s Media Council, which has jurisdiction over foreign journalists’ accreditation, was under pressure from government officials to reject Lambert’s application.