Attacks on the Press 2007: Africa Snapshots

Attacks & developments throughout the region
Burkina Faso
Central African Republic
Ivory Coast
Sierra Leone
South Africa


• In September, the director of the private weekly Semanário Angolense was sent to prison after being sentenced to an eight-month term and an 18.7 million kwanza (US$250,000) fine in a criminal case filed by the former minister of justice, Paulo Chipilica, local journalists reported. Director Graça Campos was released in November pending the outcome of his appeal. Campos had been held in the San Paulo hospital prison outside of the capital, Luanda, according to his wife and local journalists.

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• Director Clément Adéchian and reporter Cécil Adjévi of the independent daily L’Informateur served two months of a six-month criminal libel sentence stemming from an August 2006 story accusing a court bailiff of rape. They were set free in February after retracting the story under pressure.

• In February, three journalists and an executive of the leading private media group Golfe received six-month prison terms and fines in connection with a 2005 story alleging corruption in the government of former President Mathieu Kérékou. All four were free pending an appeal.

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• In January, two journalists from the private bimonthly L’Evénement were fined 300,000 CFA francs (US$680) apiece and given two-month suspended prison terms over articles that raised questions about the role of President Blaise Compaoré’s brother in the unsolved 1998 murder of editor Norbert Zongo. Director Germain Nama and Editor Ahmed Newton Barry appealed the conviction.

• In April, several e-mail death threats forced outspoken journalist and free speech activist Karim Sama into hiding. The e-mail messages pressed Sama to stop criticizing the policies of the government during his two popular reggae programs on Radio Ouaga FM. One message warned that Sama would be “gunned down” like Zongo.

• A month after resuming his program, Sama’s BMW was set on fire outside the studios of Ouaga FM, according to the Media Foundation for West Africa and local journalists. The September 28 incident occurred while Sama was hosting his music program. A police investigation was launched, but no suspects were arrested.

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• In January, a panel of judges in the capital, Bujumbura, acquitted four independent radio journalists of charges of threatening public security in their coverage of a purported 2006 coup plot. Editor Serge Nibizi and journalist Domitile Kiramvu of independent Radio Publique Africaine and Director Matthias Manirakiza of private Radio Isanganiro were set free after more than a month in prison. Radio Bonesha Director Corneille Nibaruta was acquitted in absentia.

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• Prosecutors in the capital, Yaoundé, charged Georges Gilbert Baongla, managing editor of the weekly tabloid Le Démenti, with publication of obscene materials and contempt of morals and decency. The April charges stemmed from a March 27 story trumpeting an alleged “homosexual scandal” involving an unidentified government minister. Baongla was fined 500,000 CFA francs (US$1,200) and forced to serve a six-month prison term.

• In August, publisher Wirkwa Eric Tayu of the private weekly The Nso Voice, the sole media outlet based in the northwestern town of Kumbo, went into hiding shortly before he was sentenced to a year in prison and a fine of 850,000 CFA francs (US$1,800) on eight counts of alleged press offenses, including criminal defamation, according to defense counsel Blaise Berinyuy. The ruling was linked to the paper’s publication of a government audit incriminating Kumbo’s mayor in corruption schemes, Assistant Editor Alice Tomla told CPJ. An appeal was filed, but the paper stopped publishing for fear of official reprisals.

• Stories alleging mismanagement of public finances by Prime Minister Ephraïm Inoni and former Finance Minister Polycarpe Abah Abah led to libel convictions in September against directors Bernard Owona of La Vitrine and Robert Mintya of Le Devoir, according to news reports and local journalists. Owona and Mintya were fined 1 million CFA (US$2,100) apiece.

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• In March, the official High Communication Council suspended for one month the private weekly Le Centrafriqu’Un in connection with an article critical of neighboring Chad, a close ally of the government in the deadly unrest spilling over from Darfur. The article outlined alleged human rights abuses by Chadian troops.

• Michel Alkhaly Ngady, president of the country’s private publishers group (known by its French acronym, GEPPIC), was jailed for two months after issuing public statements challenging the High Communication Council’s authority to suspend Le Centrafriqu’Un. Ngady was convicted in April of resisting public authorities and showing contempt for the law. In August, the Supreme Court dismissed a suit filed by GEPPIC alleging that two presidential appointees to the council lacked the professional experience required by the agency’s own bylaws.

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• In May, authorities lifted censorship of local newspapers and blanket restrictions on radio news coverage as a six-month state of emergency expired. The state of emergency was imposed in late 2006 in response to unrest in eastern Chad. Censorship was initially adopted for a 12-day period in November 2006 but was later extended.

• In response to deadly interethnic clashes in northern Chad, authorities issued a 12-day state of emergency in three northeastern regions on October 16, reinstating blanket restrictions on nationwide media coverage, according to news reports. The measure was subsequently extended for another 45 days, according to local journalists.

• In October, authorities in the eastern town of Abéché detained two French journalists covering an aborted attempt by an organization named Zoe’s Ark to fly 103 purported Darfuri orphans to France for adoption. Reporter Marc Garmirian of the news agency Capa and photographer Jean-Daniel Guillou of the photo agency Synchro-X were traveling with Zoe’s Ark to report on the organization’s activities when police intercepted a convoy of aid workers and children headed for the local airport, according to news reports. The journalists were held for 10 days on kidnapping complicity charges but were released on bail after intervention from French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The organization had portrayed the children as orphans from Darfur, but U.N. officials said most appeared to have living parents. Six organization workers were convicted on kidnap charges in December and returned to France for execution of their sentences.

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• In May, an affiliate of the national broadcasting corporation Office de Radio et Télévision des Comores in the breakaway island of Anjouan was ransacked by troops loyal to Anjouan leader Col. Mohamed Bacar during violent clashes with the national army, according to news reports and local journalists. Police subsequently detained overnight Editor Sardou Moussa, presenter Idiamine Nathir, camera operator Ousseine Mahamoud, reporter Chamssidine Nassuha, and an unidentified driver after they attempted to salvage equipment not damaged in the attack.

• Following the clashes, authorities in the national capital, Moroni, summoned Director Aboubacar Mchangama of the private weekly L’Archipel for questioning over a front-page photograph showing soldiers of the national army held prisoner in Anjouan, according to media reports. All copies of the paper were ordered withdrawn from sale.

• In July, after returning from a reporting trip to Anjouan, Editor Ibrahim Ali Saïd Félix of the private station Djabal Télévision, based outside Moroni, was questioned for 10 hours at Moroni’s airport over his alleged links to the Anjouan leadership.

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Le Renouveau, the country’s sole private newspaper, stopped publishing on May 18 after a series of attacks apparently stemming from the paper’s affiliation with the opposition MRD party. Police in the capital, Djibouti City, raided the paper’s offices in February and seized two computers and printing equipment. No warrant was issued or explanation given. On May 3, Djibouti City’s special crime unit detained Le Renouveau Managing Editor Houssein Ahmed Farah for 10 days and newspaper distributor Hared Abdallah Barreh for three days. The arrests were related to an April article concerning an alleged sex scandal involving a prominent businessman. On May 13, police from the special crime unit ransacked the offices of Le Renouveau, seizing equipment that had replaced what the paper lost in the February raid. Days later, four of its vendors were beaten and detained by police for four days.

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• In March, commentary critical of President Omar Bongo, Africa’s longest-serving head of state, led the state-run National Communication Council to suspend for three months the private bimonthly Edzombolo. Authorities accused Director Jean de Dieu Ndoutoume of publishing “defamatory and insulting news directed at prominent state personalities” in connection with a February editorial headlined “Omar does not control anything anymore.”

• In June, an editorial headlined “The last days of Bongo” led authorities to hand Director Guy-Christian Mavioga of the private periodical L’Espoir a one-month prison term, a five-month suspended term, and a fine on charges of offending the head of state. Mavioga was released after 38 days in prison, during which he was hospitalized for back pain and respiratory problems. The newspaper remained suspended by state media regulators on the grounds that Mavioga violated laws prohibiting a civil servant from controlling a newspaper.

• In October, the NCC blocked the Paris-based, satirical bimonthly Le Gri-Gri from printing and distributing in Gabon, according to news reports and local journalists. The council said the paper would be suspended until it officially registered with the government as a Gabonese publication. Prior to the ruling, a local firm had refused to print the September 27 issue because of an article critical of a government mining contract with a Chinese firm, Le Gri-Gri Managing Director Michel Ongoundou Loundah told CPJ. Also in October, the council suspended local bimonthly La Nation for a month because of an article critical of Arts and Culture Minister Blandine Marundu, according to local journalists.

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• In January, investigative reporter Henry Addo and a driver for the private Metropolitan Television station were attacked by a dozen men guarding a disputed property in a suburb of the capital, Accra, according to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA). The guards attacked Addo while he filmed a mechanic’s shop, seizing his digital camera and vandalizing a station vehicle, according to the same source. Several arrests were made.

• On the evening of February 9, award-winning editor Samuel Kwabena Ennin of private radio station Ashh FM was gunned down by two unknown attackers in a bar near the station’s offices in the central town of Kumasi. The assailants held patrons at gunpoint and collected mobile phones before escaping in an unmarked vehicle. In April, police announced the arrests of two suspects and said robbery had been the motive, according to Radio Ghana. CPJ inquiries did not find any evidence to suggest a link between the killing and Ennin’s work as the host of a morning news talk show.

• Buertey Shadai, a photographer for the private biweekly Hearts News, suffered head injuries in March after angry soccer fans in the mining town of Obuasi pelted him with stones following a match, according to the MFWA. The fans, irate over a late goal by their opponents, seized and destroyed Shadai’s camera, claiming he had photographed some “nasty incidents” in the crowd.

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• In June, unidentified armed men burst into the home of journalist Allen Yero Embalo and stole his laptop, recorder, and camera. Yero received a death threat on the telephone the next morning concerning reports implicating the military in drug trafficking near the Bijagos archipelago. Yero and his family went into exile shortly after the incident.

• In late June, journalist Albert Dabo received several anonymous death threats via telephone and was ordered to face defamation charges by Navy Chief of Staff Jose Américo Bubo Na Tchuto. Dabo was accused of misquoting the naval officer in an article that cited military involvement in drug trafficking. For one week in July, Dabo went into hiding after repeated death threats were made.

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• Police in Abidjan detained Claude Dassé, a reporter for the private daily Soir Info, for five days in January on a contempt charge after the journalist accused the state prosecutor of corruption in an interview published in the private daily Le Rebond. Dassé’s allegation involved the government’s investigation of a singer accused of trying to kill the reporter over a critical story. Police also questioned Editor Nando Dapa and reporter André N’Guessan of Le Rebond for two hours over their decision to publish the story.

• In February, police held Editor Denis Kah Zion and reporter André Silver Konan of the private daily Le Nouveau Réveil for 11 hours in connection with a story recounting alleged assassinations and scandals during President Laurent Gbagbo’s rule.

• French and Ivorian investigations into the unsolved 2004 disappearance of Franco-Canadian journalist Guy-André Kieffer were boosted by the emergence of a purported witness and a political pledge by new French President Nicolas Sarkozy. On August 23, French television station France 3 interviewed Berté Seydou, who said he was the driver for an army commando unit that kidnapped Kieffer. Seydou said Michel Legré, the brother-in-law of President Gbagbo’s wife, was in charge of the unit. Ivoirian prosecutor Raymond Tchimou said government involvement in the disappearance was a “false lead,” according to news reports. Legré was questioned previously in the case but had denied involvement. In August, Sarkozy met with members of Kieffer’s family and promised to pursue the investigation vigorously.

• In August, about 40 militants from the Student Federation of CÔte d’Ivoire (known by its French acronym, FESCI) invaded the offices of private daily L’Intelligent d’Abidjan, sequestering journalists for two hours, seizing newsroom equipment, and knocking down the office door of Editor Laurent Okoué, according to news reports. The students demanded the staff publish a protest letter, but they dispersed after police intervened, Okoué told CPJ. The letter was in response to an August 14 story that said 100 student members of FESCI had defected to an opposition party.

• Separate stories trumpeting corruption scandals involving President Gbagbo led police in Abidjan to question five journalists for the pro-opposition dailies Le Jour Plus and Le Rebond in early September. Police interrogated journalists over three days for more than 10 hours at a time, according to news reports and local journalists. Four of the journalists were later charged with defaming the head of state and found liable for damages of 10 million CFA francs (US$22,600) each, Le Jour Plus Editor Frederick Koffi told CPJ. The rulings were appealed.

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• Mburu Muchoki, editor of the weekly tabloid The Independent, was sentenced in March to a year in prison on a criminal libel conviction. The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Justice Minister Martha Karua over a 2004 story detailing an alleged sex scandal involving the minister. Muchoki disputed the charge and in June was freed on a presidential pardon.

• In August, following local protests and an international outcry, President Mwai Kibaki rejected a bill that would have forced editors to name their sources if their stories led to court cases. Lawmakers also withdrew a bill containing provisions restricting media ownership and granting the government sweeping powers of search and seizure on national security grounds.

• The government imposed a ban on all live broadcasts on December 30, hours after the contested results of national elections were announced. President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the December 27 vote over opposition candidate Raila Odinga, despite evidence of ballot rigging, according to international news reports. The announcement triggered widespread rioting, with the initial death toll reaching into the hundreds. The media ban allowed wild rumors to spread by text message and word of mouth, The Associated Press reported. The violence appeared to tap a deep vein of tribal tension; Kibaki is a Kikuyu, and Odinga a Luo.

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• Adam Lekhoaba, editor-in-chief of the private radio station Harvest FM, was deported to South Africa in February, after the government accused the station of inciting violence during that month’s general elections. Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili later altered the charge to failure to renew a broadcast license. The station was closed for two days while final election results were announced.

• In June, Harvest FM reporter and presenter Thabo Thakalekoala was arrested and charged with treason after he read on the air a letter allegedly written by members of the Lesotho national army that was critical of the prime minister and several government officials. That same month, the government cancelled its advertising on Harvest FM and in the private weekly Public Eye after the minister of information accused the two outlets of being aligned with an opposition party.

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• Police in the capital, Monrovia, sealed the offices of the private biweekly tabloid The Independent in late February after the government revoked the paper’s license to publish. The action came after the newspaper published a sexually graphic photograph of Presidential Affairs Minister Willis Knuckles with two women, leading to the minister’s resignation on February 26. Managing Editor Sam Dean briefly went into hiding as the scandal played out. In June, officials announced the lifting of the ban after the paper sued the government for constitutional and due process violations.

• An official with Liberia’s soccer association, irate at a story in the private weekly The News, assaulted Sports Editor Julu Johnson in March, according to the Media Foundation for West Africa. The official, Napoleon Japloe, was suspended for a month by the association after slapping the journalist and pushing him to the ground.

• Reporters Daylue Gaoh of the New Democrat and Zeze Evans Ballah of Public Agenda were beaten by police and U.N. peacekeeping forces while covering a student demonstration at the University of Liberia in Monrovia in June, local journalists reported. U.N. troops took a digital photo memory disc from Ballah that had pictures of police and troops confronting the students, Public Agenda Editor-in-Chief J. Lyndon Ponnie said. The students were staging a demonstration urging the government to pay overdue wages to instructors.

• In September, presidential bodyguards harassed and beat three journalists trying to cover a meeting between President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and newly elected Sierra Leonian President Ernest Koroma at Monrovia’s Roberts International Airport, the Media Foundation for West Africa reported. Journalists Jonathan Paylelay of the BBC, Dosso Zoom of Radio France International, and Alphonso Toweh of Reuters were beaten and bundled out of the interview area, according to local journalists. A few minutes after the incident, Sirleaf’s press secretary, Cyrus Badio, met with the journalists and apologized.

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• During parliamentary elections on September 23, Editor-in-Chief Honoré Tsabotogay of the Roman Catholic Church-owned station Radio Rakama was struck with a stick by a ruling party supporter after filming a convoy of vehicles transporting voters to a polling station in the southeastern province of Vohipeno, according to media reports and local journalists. Tsabotogay and local journalists had questioned whether the people were residents of the polling district. Tsabotogay was charged with disrupting the election proceedings by filming the convoy, but the charges were later dropped, according to Madagascar Syndicate of Journalists President Harry Laurent Rahajason.

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• In February, reporter Dickson Kashoti of the private Daily Times was injured after being punched in the face three times by Member of Parliament Joseph Njobvuyalema. The politician, later sacked by parliament and sentenced to three months in prison on assault charges, had stormed the newsroom over a story about his actions following the arrest of his brother on murder charges.

• In April, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MCRA) barred private radio stations from airing live broadcasts of political rallies without government permission. The directive effectively targeted leading private broadcasters Capital Radio, Joy Radio, and Zodiak Broadcasting over coverage of former President Bakili Muluzi, considered the most likely opposition challenger in the 2009 presidential elections. Malawi’s High Court struck down the ruling on constitutional grounds shortly afterward.

• In July, the High Court ruled that the MCRA was improperly constituted and ordered its members to stop work. The court found irregularities in President Bingu wa Mutharika’s appointments to the agency.

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• In March, Director Diaby Makoro Camara and Editor Oumar Bouaré of the private monthly Kabako were sentenced to four-month suspended terms and fined 50,000 CFA francs (US$100) apiece in a defamation suit filed by Planning and Land Development Minister Marimantia Diarra, defense lawyer Amadou Tiéoulé said. The complaint stemmed from an article that described Diarra’s alleged attempt to halt the wedding of a young woman.

• Reporter Seydine Oumar Diarra of the independent daily Info-Matin was jailed for 13 days and the paper’s director, Sambi Touré, received an eight-month suspended sentence and 200,000 franc (US$450) fine for covering a high school essay assignment about a fictitious presidential sex scandal, Info-Matin Editor-in-Chief Sékouba Samaké told CPJ. After Diarra’s June arrest, three publications reprinted the story as a protest–prompting authorities to arrest the director of each publication. Directors Hameye Cissé of Le Scorpion, Birama Fall of Le Républicain, and Alexis Kalambry of Les Echos each received a four-month suspended sentence and a fine of 200,000 CFA francs, according to local reports.

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• In February, the Supreme Court rejected appeals by the six hired killers of investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso, upholding their prison sentences and fines. Cardoso was killed on November 22, 2000, after reporting on the 1996 embezzlement of US$14 million from the state-controlled Commercial Bank of Mozambique.

• Reporter Celso Manguana of the private daily Canal de Moçambique was arrested during a dispute at a police station in the capital, Maputo, in March. Press reports and local journalists said Manguana had called officers “incompetent” for declining to comment on the detentions of several people after an antigovernment demonstration. He was released after four nights in detention.

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• In a criminal defamation lawsuit brought by a car dealership against the daily Walf Grand-Place, a court in the capital, Dakar, sentenced Director Jean Meïssa Diop and reporter Faydy Dramé to six-month suspended prison terms and 10 million CFA francs (US$23,000) apiece in damages on March 8. The charges related to a June 2006 story on a consumer complaint against the dealership.

• In April, Director Ndiogou Wack Seck of the private, pro-government daily Il Est Midi was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay damages of 40 million CFA francs (US$90,000) on criminal defamation charges. Seck was barred from working as a journalist for three months and his paper was banned from publication for the same period. The charges stemmed from a story criticizing several figures close to President Abdoulaye Wade over their roles in the 2006 release from prison of embattled former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck.

• Critical comments made during a call-in program led ruling party politician Moustapha Cissé Lô and a dozen supporters to ransack the studios of Radio Disso FM in the town of Mbacké in April. The station filed a complaint with the police, but Lô filed a countercomplaint demanding the closure of the station and 200 million CFA francs (US$452,000) in damages.

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• On February 11, members of the town youth association in Kabala, in Koinadugu District, besieged the premises of Radio Bintumani and forced the community station off the air. The youths evicted the station’s staff and demanded the dismissal of Station Manager Jorgoh Barrie, whom they accused of inciting ethnic hatred within the Koinadugu community. No official charges were brought against Barrie, and the station resumed operations the following day.

• In late June, the editor of The Standard Times, Philip Neville, was arrested and held in the capital, Freetown, for five days on libel charges. Authorities dropped the charges after the paper retracted a June 27 article that claimed the government did not publicly disclose gifts from Libyan leader Col. Muammar

• Postelection violence erupted in September as youth supporters of the victorious All People’s Congress (APC) party attacked the house of Radio Gbaft journalist Hassan Wai Koroma, according to the director of community radio stations, David Tam-Baryoh. Wai spent one night in protective police custody. APC supporters had accused him of bias in covering a relative who unsuccessfully sought office.

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• In March, veteran radio presenter John Perlman resigned from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in the midst of a high-profile dispute over the public broadcaster’s editorial integrity. Perlman did not comment on his departure, but the move was linked to his on-air assertion that outspoken commentators were being muzzled, according to media reports. An internal SABC investigation later confirmed that critical commentators were being hushed.

• Exiled Zimbabwean editor Abel Mutsakani survived a wound from a bullet that lodged near his heart during a July attack by unidentified gunmen near his home in Johannesburg. It was not clear whether the attack was work-related. Mutsakani was editor of the South Africa-based Zimbabwean news Web site ZimOnline.

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• In January, criticism of Rock Gnassingbé, former head of the Togolese soccer association, led authorities to pull Lomé-based Radio Victoire off the air for two weeks. Authorities indefinitely banned from the airwaves French television journalist Jacques Roux, a station contributor, who had criticized Gnassingbé’s financial management of the association.

• In March, the government media regulatory body, the High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAAC), banned from broadcast the veteran journalist and media activist Daniel Lawson-Drackey. The move was linked to an opinion piece aired on privately owned Nana FM that addressed corruption allegations against Public Administration Minister Arthème Ahoomey-Zunu.

• In June, the HAAC suspended three independent weekly newspapers, citing “violations to journalist ethics.” Le Courrier de La République was suspended for four months on a complaint filed by an opposition party member about a story alleging corruption; La Trompette, for three months on a complaint lodged by a group of University of Lomé academics about a story critical of the faculty; and Le Perroquet, for two months on an allegation that it accepted payment for a story about an immigration application. The editor of Le Perroquet denied the charge. The HAAC appeared to have acted beyond its authority. Togo’s Press and Communication Code states a publication can be suspended only by court order.

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• The state-run Uganda Broadcasting Council removed key equipment used by the independent station NTV Uganda from the state-owned national transmitter in the capital, Kampala, in late January. Authorities cited safety risks associated with the weight of NTV’s equipment. The station returned to the air in April.

• In August, the Uganda Broadcasting Council suspended Capital FM presenter Gaetano Kaggwa and producer George Manyali for one week for alleged “unacceptable language” during a debate with a lesbian activist on their morning talk show.

• In October, two assailants, later identified by police as having links to the queen mother of Uganda’s western kingdom of Tooro, poured acid over the transmitter of Life FM in the western town of Fort Portal. The attack, which forced the station off the air for five days, was linked to a weekly late-night talk program featuring a panel of local civic leaders who criticized government services in the area. The program had drawn public complaints from President Yoweri Museveni, according to news reports and local journalists.