Media watchdog denounces harassment in Uganda

UGANDA police harassed reporters from a radio station after it broadcast comments by an opposition politician who accused the army of corruption, a media watchdog and top local official said on Wednesday.
 
The independent station Choice FM is based in Gulu, the centre

of a two-decade war between the army and cult-like rebels that has blighted the region and driven 1,6 million people into camps.
 
Police searched its offices last week after it broadcast a talk show featuring opposition and ruling party candidates the day before March 2 local government elections.
 
Last Friday, programme manager Martin Mapenduzi was arrested and held overnight before being released on police bond.
 
“It is outrageous that police are harassing journalists for airing the sort of robust political debate essential to a democracy,”

 Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement.

During the talk show, opposition figures including Norbert Mao, who was overwhelmingly elected Gulu district chairman the next day, slammed corruption in the military and accused the government of breaking numerous promises to end the war.
 
Asked about the search and arrest that followed, police said the station may have been operating illegally.
 
“We asked them for documents to show they were adhering to the law, but up to now they have failed to present anything,” regional police commander Katureebe Arinaitwe told Reuters.
 
They also said they were investigating whether it was a threat to security.
 
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni extended his 20 years in power at elections held a week before Gulu’s local contest.
 
But both races saw the east African country split in two, with the north firmly voting against his ruling Movement party.
 
Mao, who ousted Gulu’s long-serving Movement chairman Col Walter Ochora, said the state had been shocked by the results, and that the moves against Choice FM were “bullying” tactics.
 
“We caused a lot of embarrassment to them, but we didn’t incite anybody,” Mao said by telephone from the north.
 
“We have always known the army is jittery, especially about cases of abuse by the military. They don’t want the opposition to have a wide audience up here, and of course radio has been a very powerful tool for us.” —  Reuter.