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Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the Government at times restricted these rights in practice. In addition, the law criminalizes offenses committed by the media and limited the media's ability to function effectively. The Government at times intimidated journalists, and this may have resulted in the practice of self-censorship by journalists.
On occasion, persons were arrested and detained for criticizing the Government. For example, in March, the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) RA arrested, detained, and interrogated vice-chairperson Winnie Byanyima for statements she allegedly made in February concerning alleged government willingness to arm a Rwandan rebel group. She was released after questioning, although the Department of Public Prosecutions reportedly was deciding whether to file charges at year's end.
On August 22, the Uganda Law Council prohibited lawyers from participating in radio talk shows or making public statements on legal matters without permission from the council. The council directive provided for disciplinary action to be taken against any lawyer in breach of a 1977 council regulation on professional conduct. The ban remained in effect during the reporting period but was widely disregarded. Lawyers continued to make public statements and appeared on radio talk shows without penalty.
Public media were generally free and outspoken. There were many privately-owned publications and broadcasters. The New Vision, a government-owned daily newspaper with a circulation of 35,000, sometimes included reporting that was critical of the Government. The Monitor, the country's largest independent daily newspaper, consistently was critical of the Government. The East African, a Kenya-based weekly publication that provided extensive reporting on the country, continued to circulate without government hindrance.
The Government continued to operate Radio Uganda, the only national radio station, and one television station (UTV), whose reporting was not considered to be independent. At year's end, there were at least 50 radio stations, mostly private, operating throughout the country; however, on August 31, the Government announced that it would stop registering FM radio stations to prevent too many stations from overburdening the airwaves and adversely affecting the quality of broadcasting; however, by year's end, the Government continued registering stations. Several independent media outlets in Kampala broadcast daily or weekly political talk shows, including live off-site radio public debates called "bimeeza," which were often very critical of the Government.
There were four local private television stations and more than a dozen private television stations available via satellite. The number of independent media broadcast sources increased during the year.
Police at times arrested, detained, interrogated, and otherwise harassed journalists during the year. For example, on January 6, police arrested Vincent Matovu, editor of the news pamphlet Mazima, and charged him with two counts of sedition for the publication of articles in October and November 2002 about LRA activity in Pader and Kapchorwa Districts. In February, Matovu was released on bail from Luzira Prison; at year's end, his trial, which began in November, was ongoing.
In March, radio talk show host Karim Zziwa was arrested and held overnight on charges of criminal trespass after he brought a recording device into the Movement National Conference.
On June 17, the Government banned radio stations in the northeastern town of Soroti from broadcasting any news about LRA rebel activity and accused radio station Kyoga Veritaas FM of inciting panic and promoting the LRA's cause after it broadcast interviews with persons who had been abducted and released by the LRA. On June 22, police in Soroti raided the offices of Kyoga Veritas FM and detained the station's staff for allegedly broadcasting "false news" stories about LRA rebel attacks in the area and messages from LRA leaders; the Government subsequently closed the station. On July 2, security operatives again raided the station and seized documents and computers. The Government allowed the radio station to reopen on August 31, but directed the station not to broadcast security-related information.
On October 23, police arrested three journalists for the newspaper New Vision and allegedly physically assaulted them while they attempted to report on a strike at a textile firm. The three were released the same day.
There were a few reports that citizens harassed journalists. For example, on February 23, followers of Imelda Namutebi, a pastor in the suburbs of Kampala, attacked, severely beat, and robbed Nicholas Kajoba, a journalist for the state-owned daily New Vision who was assigned to write a story about Namutebi. The newspaper had published letters criticizing Namutebi for marrying a man who was already married. By year's end, police had conducted no investigation into the incident.
On December 7, 15 persons reportedly belonging to the ruling party attacked and beat Hadija Nakitende, a reporter for CBS radio and vice-president of the Association of Ugandan Journalists, in Kampala. The attack occurred while Nakitende was covering a meeting of the youth wing of the opposition Democratic Party. By year's end, police had conducted no investigation into the incident.
Media laws require journalists to be licensed, to meet certain standards, such as possessing a university degree in journalism or the equivalent. The law also provides for a Media Council with the power to suspend newspapers and deny access to state information. The Media Council was staffed but not operational during the year.
The Government at times criticized journalists. For example, in late February, State House protested the Monitor newspaper's publication of unflattering pictures of President Museveni, and sharply criticized the newspaper for trying to "demean" the President.
In June, the Government prohibited Monitor reporter Frank Nyakairu from covering functions involving the Presidency; the prohibition, which remained in effect until year's end, was reportedly a result of his contribution to a story about an alleged UPDF helicopter crash in October 2002.
On November 10, the Attorney General banned the media from reporting the declarations of assets and liabilities made by the country's political leaders.
Unlike in the previous year, the Government did not order stations to stop interviewing "exiled political dissidents" accused of terrorism and subversive activity.
During the year, the Government cited national security as grounds to suppress media reporting of the Government's efforts to fight the LRA, particularly reports that the LRA had killed UPDF soldiers. By year's end, the Government continued its attempts to restrict conflict-related coverage, which reportedly resulted in the practice of self-censorship by journalists.
In March, UPDF spokesperson Major Shaban Bantariza warned media houses and journalists not to publish or broadcast military information that was restricted, confidential, or classified. He warned that media outlets who abetted soldiers in leaking information would be subject to punishment, including the possibility of court-martial.
The court case against two editors and a journalist for the Monitor on charges of publishing false information that threatened national security after publishing a story about an alleged UPDF helicopter crash in October 2002 was ongoing at year's end.
By year's end, the Supreme Court had not ruled on the Monitor's appeal that challenged the legality of the law prohibiting the "publication of false news."
The Government did not limit access to the Internet and did not censor websites during the year.
The Government did not restrict academic freedom. Students and faculty sponsored wide-ranging political debates in open forums; however, there were reports that police blocked and forcibly dispersed some university political debates. For example, on October 9, anti-riot police at Makerere University used water cannons and tear gas to disrupt a public debate sponsored by the political pressure group Popular Resistance Against Life Presidency on the issue of eliminating the presidential term limit from the Constitution. Students responded to police action by throwing rocks, and the debate turned into a riot, which lasted several hours.
Political education and military science courses known as "Chaka Mchaka" continued during the year on a national level; however, the courses were not mandatory.
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