Reporters Without Borders condemns the government’s closure of four radio stations and its ban on live debate programmes in response to the protests that have shaken Kampala in recent days. The organisation also calls for the immediate release of talk-show host Kalundi Serumaga, who has been held by the police for nearly 48 hours and who says he has been tortured.
“The Ugandan media must clearly make an effort not to give rein to excesses, but gagging journalists and the public is never an appropriate response to any crisis,” Reporters Without Borders said. “As well as constituting a violation of free expression, the measures taken by the authorities are liable to fuel the resentment and frustration of the public, especially young people, and thereby revive tension.”
Information minister Kabakumba Matsiko announced the suspension of three privately-owned radio stations – Suubi FM, Radio Sapienta and Radio Two Akaboozi Kubiri – on 11 September for inciting riots and “criminal mobs engaged in acts of theft, violence against persons, and destruction of property.” The previous evening the authorities had closed CBS, a station owned by the Kingdom of Buganda, one of Uganda’s traditional kingdoms.
Reporters Without Borders has been told that force was used to seize Radio Two’s transmitter. “Security agents went to the Radio Two mast in the district of Naguru, put the guard under arrest and took away his mobile telephone so that he could not call the station,” a Kampala-based journalist said. “Then they vandalised the door to the transmitter and confiscated it.”
The government banned the live radio debate programmes known as “ebimeeza” on the grounds that the radio stations were unable to control their content.
The widely-respected host of Radio One’s "Spectrum," a talk-show broadcast every evening at the prime time of 7 pm, Serumaga was abducted outside WBS television at around 11 pm on 11 September after participating in television debate in which he criticised President Yoweri Museveni. He was taken to Kampala’s Kireka district and was not seen again until around 1 p.m. yesterday, when he was located at Kampala Central Police Station (CPS). He is still being held there.
The crackdown on the media followed violent clashes in Kampala on 10 and 11 September between the security forces and supporters of King Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II of the Baganda, the majority ethnic group in the capital, after the authorities made it difficult for the king’s aides to organise a royal visit to a northeastern district in the city. The clashes left an official toll of four dead (a dozen, according to other sources), many wounded and considerable material damage.
Picture: Yoweri Museveni / Reuters