Ugandan journalist Tony Lule was arrested on November 12, 2020, in response to a cyber-harassment complaint filed on behalf of the president’s son. If convicted, he could face up to three years in jail.
Lule is a video editor for the privately owned broadcaster Bukedde Television, and also shares news and political commentary on his personal Facebook page and the YouTube channel “Trending Channel Ug,” which he runs, and which is a mix of his and others’ content, according to a close friend of Lule’s and two of his colleagues, all of whom spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
According to CPJ’s review of his content, Lule often posts videos critical of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and supportive of opposition candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine. Some of the YouTube videos have more than 10,000 views.
On November 12, four plain clothed police officers arrested Lule at the Bukedde Television office in the Kireka suburb of Kampala, the capital, and took him to the local Special Investigation Unit facility, where he was held without charge or access to a lawyer, according to a report by Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, a local media rights group, and Diana Nandudu, head of the group’s legal department, which is representing Lule, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
Lule was arrested in response to a complaint filed at the Kampala police station alleging that he harassed the president’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, through videos shared on YouTube and Facebook, according to Nandudu and Lule’s close friend and colleagues. Nandudu said Lule’s lawyers have not seen the complaint and do not know who filed it.
On November 19, Nandudu said Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda requested Lule be released on bail after they were unable to visit him in detention. On November 23, the court ordered police to file charges against Lule or else release him unconditionally, Nandudu said.
On November 24, police formally charged Lule with cyber-harassment at a magistrate court, and the court ordered him to be held in the Kitalya Prisons, in central Uganda, until December 3, to allow time for prosecutors to provide an interpreter after Lule told the court that he did not understand the language in which the charges against him were read, Nandudu told CPJ.
Nandudu said the defense lawyers intended to submit another application for Lule’s release on December 3.
Some of the videos shared on Lule’s Facebook page and on “Trending Chanel Ug” contained provocative comments about Kainerugaba’s personal and professional relationship with his father; questions about the citizenship of senior Ugandan politicians, including Museveni; and allegations that the government was attacking supporters of Bobi Wine, according to translations of videos from the Luganda language, which CPJ reviewed. Lule did not make or participate in those videos, according to his colleagues.
The channel does include other videos produced by Lule, including of interviews with citizens about rural community issues and entertainment.
If convicted of violating Section 24 (a) of Uganda’s 2011 Computer Misuse Act, relating to cyber-harassment, Lule could be sentenced to a three-year prison term, fined, or both.
Lule has not experienced any health problems in detention, Nandudu said.
Reached over the phone by CPJ on December 1, President Museveni’s spokesperson, Don Wanyama, declined to comment on Lule’s case. CPJ was unable to find direct contact information for Kainerugaba.
Kampala regional police spokesperson Patrick Onyango told CPJ in a phone interview on December 1 that he was not aware a journalist had been arrested and that the matter could only be determined by a court.