Ugandan magazine questioned over Museveni cartoon

New York, January 13, 2011Police in Kampala arrested the director and editor of the monthly newsmagazine Summit Business Review on Tuesday in connection with a caricature of President Yoweri Museveni that appeared on the cover of the October issue.

Director Samuel Sejjaaka and Editor Mustapha Mugisha were released on bond but face continued interrogations, Sejjaaka told CPJ.

Police raided the magazine’s office Tuesday morning, confiscated Mugisha’s computer, and detained the editor, Sejjaaka said. When Sejjaaka came to the police station to inquire as to Mugisha’s status, the director was detained for refusing to write out a police statement, he told CPJ. After being released on bond, the two were ordered to report to the political crimes division of the Criminal Investigations Department on Wednesday and again today, Mugisha said.

No charges have been brought. Police told Sejaaka the caricature “embarrassed” the president. The cover of the magazine’s October edition featured a cartoon of Museveni blowing out the candle on a cake in the shape of Uganda for the country’s 48th Independence Day celebrations. The cartoonist, Fred Senoga Makubuya, is based in the United States, Mugisha told CPJ.

The article that accompanied the cartoon detailed Museveni’s electoral dominance, arguing that the opposition parties remained too divided to challenge the ruling party. Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for February.

Police would not explain why they were taking action three months after the edition was published, although officers noted the caricature was being used by opposition candidates in campaign rallies, the journalists told CPJ. Security agents also pulled down roughly 10 advertising billboards in Kampala that displayed the cartoon, according to local journalists. The magazine caters to Ugandan business executives and maintains a neutral political stance, Mugisha told CPJ.

“The arrest of two independent journalists just one month before elections is deeply disturbing,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Public figures in a democracy should not resort to the police to shield themselves from media criticism. All legal action against Samuel Sejjaaka and Mustapha Mugisha should be dropped immediately.”

In August 2009, police arrested and interrogated three journalists from the private bimonthly The Independent after the magazine published a cartoon spoofing Museveni’s controversial decision to reappoint members of the embattled electoral commission to supervise the 2011 general election. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the electoral commission did not follow its own standards and allowed irregularities in the electoral process in favor of the ruling National Resistance Movement party.