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Journalist charged with sedition over programme on Garang death

[Sudan] Mourners pray for John Garang at Juba Cathedral on 6 August, 2005.
Mourners pray for Garang at Juba Cathedral, 6 August 2005. (Hilaire Avril)

A Ugandan journalist was charged on Monday with sedition following a talk show he hosted that featured a discussion about the recent death of Sudanese First Vice President John Garang.

Andrew Mwenda, who was arrested on Friday, pleaded not guilty to the charge. He was granted bail by a court in the capital, Kampala.

The radio station that employs him, K-FM, remained off-air for a fourth day after the Ugandan Broadcasting Council shut it down on Thursday evening.

The prosecution told the court that Mwenda had intended to "bring into hatred, or contempt [and] to excite disaffection against the person of the [Ugandan] president and government".

He was arrested two days after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni accused him of compromising regional security through his writing in the independent Daily Monitor newspaper and on a talk show he hosted on K-FM.

At a memorial service for to commemorate Garang and the Ugandans who perished with him on 30 July, Museveni also threatened to shut down newspapers engaged in "speculation" over the Sudanese leader's death in a Uganda government-owned helicopter that crashed near the Uganda-Sudan border.

"I will no longer tolerate a newspaper which is like a vulture. Any newspaper that plays around with regional security, I will not tolerate it - I will close it," he said.

Museveni said the Daily Monitor, The Weekly Observer and a tabloid, The Red Pepper "must stop or we shall stop them".

Mwenda later said on his show that Museveni and his government were "incompetent", adding that this had resulted in the death of Garang. He said the Ugandan government had put Garang on "a junk helicopter... at night... in poor weather... over an insecure area".

Uganda's information minister, James Nsaba Buturo, said in a statement: "Everybody remembers what happened in Rwanda in 1994. Inflammatory statements on Radio Mille Collines led to the death of Belgian nationals and hundreds of thousands of Rwandese.

"Neither K-FM nor any other radio should ever be used in this way," he added, in reference to the Rwandan genocide in which some 800,000 people - mainly minority Tutsis - were slaughtered by Hutu extremists.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned Mwenda's arrest.

"We call on President Museveni to ensure that Andrew Mwenda is released immediately and unconditionally and that K-FM is allowed to reopen," Ann Cooper, executive director of the CPJ, said. "Arbitrary censorship and harassment of journalists is not something one expects to see in a democracy."

Garang, who had led the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army through 21 years of civil war against the Sudanese government, had assumed office on 9 July, after signing a peace agreement with the government in January.

He died en-route to southern Sudan from Uganda, following a meeting with Museveni. Garang, who was buried in the southern town of Juba on 6 August, has been replaced as vice president by Salva Kiir Mayardit. Investigations into the cause of the crash are ongoing.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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