Home | News    Monday 15 August 2005

Uganda reporter denies sedition over Garang remarks

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By Daniel Wallis

KAMPALA, Aug 15 (Reuters) - A Ugandan journalist who angered the government with remarks about the death of Sudan’s Vice President John Garang denied a charge of sedition on Monday, saying the constitution guaranteed free speech.

KFM radio reporter Andrew Mwenda, who faces up to five years in jail, was granted bail when he appeared at a magistrates court in Kampala over remarks about the crash that killed Garang in Uganda’s presidential helicopter.

Conspiracy theories ranging from sabotage to hijackers have raged in the local media since Garang’s death, three weeks after he was sworn in as part of Sudan’s peace deal.

Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has been particularly incensed by claims he lent his friend a defective aircraft.

Mwenda, 33, told the court: "I cannot be guilty of exercising my right to liberty and my right to free speech guaranteed under the constitution."

The charge sheet shown to journalists by a state prosecutor said Mwenda had "uttered words with the intention to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite dissatisfaction against the person of the president".

Chief magistrate Deo Nizeyimana set bail at 500,000 shillings in cash and ordered additional payments of 2 million shillings each from five people prepared to guarantee Mwenda’s appearance in court.

Mwenda remained in custody while colleagues left the court to obtain a total of 10.5 million shillings.

Nizeyimana set the next hearing for August 29.

Conrad Nkutu, managing director of Monitor Publications, the owners of KFM radio, said the court case was an attempt to criminalise journalists.

"This sedition law has no place in a democratic society and we plan to challenge it in the constitutional court," he said. "There is no need to criminalise the work of journalists."

Ugandan authorities have called for journalists to await the results of an international investigation into the crash.

Museveni has singled out Mwenda, who is also the political editor of Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper, for criticism.

On his KFM programme, Mwenda last week suggested the government had caused Garang’s death through incompetence.

On Thursday KFM radio was taken off the air by Uganda’s Broadcasting Council, and on Friday Mwenda was arrested.

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