June 30, 2006
Original Alert: June 8, 2006
James Tumusiime, Weekly Observer
Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, Weekly Observer
The trial of two journalists from the independent Weekly Observer newspaper on charges of “promoting sectarianism” was suspended June 22 pending a ruling on the constitutionality of the law under which they were charged, according to the state-owned New Vision newspaper.
The charge against editor James Tumusiime and reporter Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda stemmed from a Weekly Observer article published December 1, 2005, ahead of a presidential election in February won by President Yoweri Museveni. The article said President Yoweri Museveni and a small group of army generals from the president’s Bahima ethnic group had conspired to keep opposition leader Kizza Besigye in jail. Nganda, who wrote the article, sought comment from one of the generals, who declined to comment.
The New Vision reported that the indictment against the Weekly Observer journalists quoted Nganda’s article as saying that the army generals’ “role in keeping retired Col. Kizza Besigye in prison…has led [opposition party] FDC to see their leader as a victim of Bahima in general.” However, the original text, obtained by CPJ, shows this to be a misquote; in fact, the article stated that the FDC saw “their leader as a victim of Bahima generals.” [Emphasis added.]
Under the current law, the journalists would face up to five years in jail if convicted. However, Uganda’s leading media company, the Monitor Group, challenged article 41 of Uganda’s penal code, which contains the clause on “promoting sectarianism,” before the Supreme Court after veteran Monitor Group journalist Andrew Mwenda was similarly charged in 2005.