Nairobi, June 21, 2017–Ugandan authorities should cease investigation and intimidation of privately-owned daily newspaper Red Pepper editor Ben Byarabaha and four other publications, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 15, Uganda’s Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) summoned Byarabaha in relation to an article in Red Pepper on the health of Uganda’s Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, according to documents seen by CPJ. Authorities alleged that the article was intended to “disturb the peace, quiet, and privacy” of Kayihura.
“Summoning editor Ben Byarabaha to endure hours of interrogation has a chilling effect on the Ugandan press,” CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal said from New York. “Ugandan journalists should be permitted to report freely on government officers whose well-being is a matter of public interest.”
Byarabaha told CPJ that he was interrogated for five hours by the Media Crimes Unit when he appeared at the CID headquarters in Kampala yesterday. He has been ordered to appear again on June 27 to answer to allegations of “offensive communication.” Byarabaha said that the police had further questioned him on his sources for the story but he did not reveal them.
CID spokesperson Vincent Ssekate said five publications are under investigation for similar allegations, according to a report. Ssekate did not respond to CPJ’s phone calls for comment. Emmanuel Mbonimpa, the assistant commissioner of Uganda’s Media Crimes Unit, did not name the four other media outlets, telling the CPJ that information was “confidential.”
Section 25 of Uganda’s Computer Misuse Act defines offensive communication as the use of electronic communication to “disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person”. By writing about Kayihura’s health, Mbonimpa told CPJ, Red Pepper had “offended” and infringed on his privacy, regardless of Kayihura”s role as a public servant.
Haruna Kanaabi, executive secretary of the Independent Media Council, told CPJ that the investigations may push Ugandan journalists to “live in fear that, if you write about public officials, you will be charged.”
This is not the first time the government has used allegations of offensive communication to silence critical voices. In April, a university lecturer was arrested after criticizing Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni on social media.