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Uganda Censors Target 39 for Reporting on Bobi Wine

Opposition figurehead Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, lifts his hand in the dock in the court room in Kampala, April 29, 2019.
Opposition figurehead Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, lifts his hand in the dock in the court room in Kampala, April 29, 2019.

The detention and subsequent release on bail of a popular musician in Uganda has led to the censure of 39 journalists at more than a dozen media outlets in that country.

Singer Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was arrested on April 29 on charges of leading an illegal protest against a newly imposed tax on social media. Wine has been a frequent critic of current President Yoweri Museveni and has even hinted at making a run for the office himself.

Wine’s arrest was widely covered by Ugandan media. That lead the Ugandan Communications Commission to call for suspension the journalists, who were accused of airing “sensationalized programming.”

In a letter to 13 media organizations, including popular outlets such as Capital FM and NBS-TV, the UCC demanded tapes of all live programming from April 29.

The move has been criticized by Ugandan journalists, as well as by international organizations. Seif Magango with Amnesty International posted: “The Ugandan authorities must immediately free Bobi Wine and stop misusing the law in a shameless attempt to silence him for criticizing the government.”

Among the journalists affected by the censure is VOA’s Shaka Ssali, whose weekly TV program “Straight Talk Africa” was pulled off their air on Wednesday. The topic of that program: global press freedoms.

The charges against Wine, 37, related to staging a street protest in July against a tax on social media. His lawyer has said the charges are fabricated and that Wine is being persecuted by security forces.

Wine also faces separate treason charges from an August incident in which the presidential convoy was attacked by stone-throwers at a campaign event.

In a statement, Uganda Journalists Union President Lucy Anyango Ekadu said the climate for journalists in the country is worsening.

‘’We have noted growing cases of press freedom violations in Uganda with impunity, where many journalists are intimidated, beaten, tortured, arrested and detained sometimes incommunicado by security agencies,” she said.

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    Doug Bernard

    Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.