Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about Augustine “Rouks” Okello, a presenter for radio Rhino FM in the northern city of Lira, who has been placed in pre-trial detention in Kampala’s Luzira prison and is due to appear in court again on 12 August.
Arrested secretly on 13 July, Okello was brought before the Buganda Road court in Kampala on 1 August and was charged with treason, which carries the death penalty. During his court appearance he told journalists he was tortured by the security forces, a claim denied by the government.
“The circumstances of Okello’s arrest were already shocking,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Now we are worried about the conditions in which he is being held and we condemn the way the authorities are persecuting him. We call for his case to be transferred to the high court so that he can be freed on bail and then acquitted.”
26.07.2011 - Anti-terrorist unit holding radio journalist who disappeared two weeks ago
Augustine “Rouks” Okello, a journalist based in the northern city of Lira who mysteriously disappeared on 13 July, is being held by an anti-terrorist unit on suspicion of involvement in “subversive” activities, Reporters Without Borders has learned from army spokesman Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye.
A presenter on Lira-based Radio Rhino FM, Okello disappeared after meeting with District Internal Security Officer Lt. Steven Eriaku and other members of the regional security forces at Lira’s Grand Pacific Hotel on 13 July. It turns out he is now being held in an undisclosed location in Kampala by the Joint Anti-Terrorism Taskforce (JATT), which still has not taken him before a judge.
“The way Okello was arrested and is now being held incommunicado is outrageous,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Anti-terrorist personnel are flouting the Ugandan justice system and international law by denying this journalist’s right to the presumption of innocence. We condemn their actions and call on the authorities to free him at once.”
Lt. Col. Kulayigye told Reporters Without Borders yesterday that Okello was arrested as part of a probe into the death of Edison Muzoora, a dissident colonel who deserted the Uganda People’s Defence Forces in 2003 and, according to the Ugandan intelligence services, began in exile to coordinate a rebellion using the People’s Redemption Army, an armed group with alleged links to the Ugandan opposition.
Muzoora’s body was found at his family home in a rural part of the western district of Bushenyi on 27 May. According to investigators, he was murdered by colleagues who had learned of his intention to defect and his body was brought back to Uganda in still unexplained circumstances.
President Yoweri Museveni was reportedly incensed by the news and ordered an investigation to establish the exact circumstances of his death and his body’s return to Uganda. As part of the investigation, four supporters of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) have been arrested in Bushenyi.
The authorities have produced no evidence of Okello’s involvement, or the involvement of any opposition parties in Muzoora’s death, and his arrest in connection with the case seems utterly arbitrary and shocking. In response to a question from Reporters Without Borders, Lt. Col. Kulayigye said: “If investigators find him innocent, he may not even have to be taken to court.”
Several journalists are currently being prosecuted in Uganda for “subversive” activity or for criticizing President Museveni. The case of Patrick Otim, a freelance journalist who was arrested in June 2009 and who is facing a possible death sentence on a treason charge, was due to be heard yesterday but was adjourned without a new date being set.
Timothy Kalyegira, an independent journalist and owner of The Uganda Record, an online newspaper, was arrested on 31 May and charged in connection with articles published from 12 to 16 July 2010 blaming President Museveni for the suicide bombing on 11 July 2010 in Kampala. The charges were later dropped.
The headquarters of Ggwanga, an independent weekly based in the Kampala suburb of Ntinda, was searched on 24 May by police looking for pamphlets and flyers published by the activist group Action For Change (A4C) that allegedly “incited violence and the overthrow of the government.” Ggwanga CEO Kizito Sserumaga, editor Alex Lubwama and administrator Patricia Sserebe have been charged with criminal defamation.
See also : Timothy Kalyegira arrested
Photo : President Yoweri Museveni (Reuters)