Ugandan military police are seen in Kampala on August 23, 2018. A BBC team was recently arrested while investigating corruption in the country. (Ronald Kabuubi/AP)

Ugandan authorities arrest BBC journalists investigating black market drug sales

February 7, 2019 12:46 PM ET

Nairobi, February 7, 2019--The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Ugandan authorities to immediately release a team of three journalists and one media worker detained in connection with their investigative reporting and to drop any investigation into a fourth journalist, who is part of the same team.

Yesterday, security personnel in Kampala arrested BBC journalists Godfrey Badebye and Kassim Mohamed, their fixer Rashid Kaweesa, and their driver Shafiq Kisame, according to media reports, a statement from the Foreign Correspondents Association of Uganda, and two journalists who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Police also raided the home of a fourth journalist, Solomon Serwanjja, of the privately owned NBS TV; he was not home and police arrested his wife, Vivian Serwanjja, according to a statement on social media by NBS parent company Next Media Services.

"This blatant attempt to suppress investigative journalism is a sign of the extremes to which Uganda is willing to go to make sure that critical stories don't hit the airwaves," said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo. "We urge authorities to immediately and unconditionally release these journalists and their support staff, and to provide assurances that Solomon Serwanjja will not be arrested."

The journalists were jointly investigating the alleged trade of government-regulated pharmaceuticals on the Ugandan black market, and were at the "conclusion stage of the three-week investigation," according to the Next Media statement.

The news site Nile Post, also owned by Next Media Services, reported that the journalists had gone to meet a person suspected of illegally selling the drugs when they were arrested.

Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango, today said that the journalists and Vivian Serwanjja, who works with Uganda's Ministry of Health, are facing charges of illegal possession of restricted drugs, according a statement seen by CPJ and a report by the privately owned Daily Monitor. Under Ugandan law, possession of such "classified" drugs is punishable by a fine of up to 2 million Ugandan shillings (US$545) and up to five years in prison.

In a televised news brief, Onyango said that some of the drugs were found at Serwanjja's home and that police were still looking for Solomon Serwanjja to provide an explanation.

Kampala Metropolitan Police commander Moses Kafeero responded to a text from CPJ requesting comment by saying that he would send a statement via WhatsApp. He did not send the statement by publication time.

The BBC confirmed via email to CPJ that a "BBC team" had been arrested in Uganda, although it did not specify the individuals arrested.

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