New York, October 9, 2007—A private radio station in southwest Uganda was knocked off the air for several days after armed assailants poured acid on its transmitter last week in an attack believed to have been prompted by a program critical of the local government, according to local journalists and news reports.
Life FM, one of two radio stations in the town of Fort Portal, 160 miles west of the capital, Kampala, returned to the air today using a leased transmitter after a five-day hiatus, Station Manager Patrick Nyakahuma told CPJ. The station went off the air last Thursday, when two men armed with pistols surprised guards at a public facility housing five television and radio masts, locked the guards in a room, and poured acid on Life FM’s transmitter, according to the leading independent newspaper The Monitor and local journalists. No other station’s equipment was damaged. A police investigation is under way, local district information officer John Kamara told CPJ.
The attack was potentially linked to a weekly late night talk program featuring a panel of local civic leaders critical of the delivery of government services in the area, according to local journalists.
The program regularly focuses on the purportedly slow pace of development in five western districts as compared to that of President Yoweri Museveni’s home region, Mbarara, former program host Joseph Kasimbazi told CPJ. Museveni publicly complained twice about the program in recent speeches, according to news reports and local journalists.
“The brazen nature of this attack makes it particularly troubling,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We hope the investigation achieves quick and complete results.”
The program, titled “Twerwaneho” (“Let’s fight for ourselves”), began airing on Life FM on September 24 after the rival station Voice of Toro dropped the program following a meeting with local security officials, according to The Monitor.
Life FM’s manager has publicly stated that local ruling party chairman Godfrey Nyakahuma had warned the station to drop the program. The politician did not respond to the allegation, according to local journalists, but The Monitor quoted him last month as saying that he would not “sit and watch as someone uses the media to smear” the ruling National Resistance Movement party.
Authorities this year forced off the air fledgling Nation Television Uganda in February, pressured private station Kitti FM to pull off the air an interview of opposition leader Kizza Besigye in May, and last month suspended for a week popular radio presenter Gaetano Kaggwa of independent Capital FM over a debate on homosexuality, according to CPJ research. Three journalists of The Monitor were also being investigated on possible charges of sedition over a story critical of the army.