Ugandan journalist receives repeated death threats

November 28, 2011 4:42 PM ET

New York, November 28, 2011--Anonymous callers have repeatedly threatened Ugandan radio journalist Robert Ssembuusi over the past week after he aired a story implicating a former local mayor in corruption, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Ssembuusi, a correspondent for the private Central Broadcasting Service, aired a story on November 17 alleging that the former district mayor of Kalangala, a town in central Uganda, was under investigation for his role in the disappearance of solar panels. The former mayor, Daniel Kikola, called Ssembuusi on November 21 and invited Ssembuusi to his home, but the journalist declined the invitation. Kikola then called Ssembuusi repeatedly and, during his last call, warned him that "something strange would happen to him," Ssembuusi said.

CPJ made several attempts to contact Kikola today but his phone was apparently switched off.

Two days after receiving Kikola's calls, Ssembuusi received two anonymous calls in which someone threatened to kill him if he continued to report about the missing solar panels, he said. A final anonymous call on November 24 warned Ssembuusi he would be arrested if he continued to mention Kikola in his reports.

Ssembuusi attempted to file a police statement today but the police officer he was assigned to meet was not present. Kalangala Police Chief Joseph Ssenbuloya told CPJ that police are investigating the case and have recorded a statement with Kikola. They are now investigating the phone records of calls made to Ssembuusi, he said.

"Death threats against journalists in Uganda cannot be taken lightly, given the history of violence against the press," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "Kalangala police must ensure Ssembuusi's security and thoroughly investigate these threats. The funders of the African Development Bank also have a right to know how their money is being spent."

The African Development Bank donated roughly 80 solar panels through the ministry of water and environment in 2010 to help power pumps circulating clean water in Kalangala Town Council, according to local reports. About 40 of the panels were reported missing. Since November 14, police have recovered about 21 missing solar panels. The bank provides grants to African governments and private companies investing in African countries.

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