Ugandan online editor accused of sedition

Nairobi, August 4, 2010—Police accused the online editor of The Ugandan Record, Timothy Kalyegira, of sedition Tuesday and searched his house today, Kalyegira told the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Media Offences Department commissioner of police, Simon Kuteesa, interrogated Kalyegira about two online articles that speculated as to whether the Ugandan government were involved in the July 11 bomb attacks in Kampala.

Summoned on Monday, Kalyegira has reported to the police daily since and said he accompanied them while they searched his home today. Police confiscated his laptop, modem, passport, notes, and mobile phone. He was told to return to the Kiro Road Police Station in Bukoto, a suburb of the capital, Kampala, on Friday, he said.

The police Media Offence Department, which is part of the Criminal Investigations Department, have accused Kalyegira of violating the colonial-era penal code by publishing seditious material. Defense lawyer Ladisleus Rwakafuuzi told CPJ the police cannot legally charge Kalyegira under this law since it does not take into consideration online publications. “This law is not up-to-date,” Rwakafuuzi said. “They have no legal mandate for this since the Ugandan Record is not a newspaper.”

According to the Ugandan Human Rights Network of Journalists, more than a dozen Ugandan journalists are currently being prosecuted under the sedition law. Kalyegira is the first online journalist accused of sedition in Uganda, according to the daily Monitor. In 2005, former CPJ International Press Freedom Award winner Andrew Mwenda, managing editor of bimonthly newsmagazine The Independent, challenged the constitutionality of the sedition law. The case is still pending.

“Regardless of the nature of the article, sedition charges are never justified,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We call on the authorities to return Timothy Kalyegira’s equipment.”

The Uganda Record is one of the few Ugandan media outlets that questioned whether the July 11 bomb blasts were instigated by Somali insurgent group Al-Shabaab, Kalyegira told CPJ. The site published an article on July 12, “Who set off the Uganda Bombs?” and another July 16, “Why is Rwanda not condemning Al-Shabab?that says: “Rwandan intelligence officers that Uganda Record sources have spoken to seem to believe that the bombings were by Ugandan intelligence.” The article provided no evidence for the allegations.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for two July 11 bomb blasts in Kampala that left an estimated 76 people dead. An Al-Shabaab spokesman said it was retribution for Uganda’s participation in the African Union peacekeeping forces based in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.