Thursday, September 6, 2007


Uganda radio host denies charges

President Museveni (left) had previously criticised Andrew Mwenda
A Ugandan radio journalist has denied sedition charges in court.
"I cannot plead guilty of exercising my liberty guaranteed under the constitution," said Andrew Mwenda.

He was arrested on Friday, after hosting a phone-in on KFM radio about the death of Sudan's southern leader and Vice-President John Garang.

The Ugandan government has defended his arrest, saying the debate could have sparked genocide at a time of extreme tension in Sudan.

Mr Mwenda, who could face five years in prison, was freed on bail.

Mr Garang died in a helicopter crash on his way back from talks in Uganda on 30 July.

Sudan insists it was an accident but an investigation has started.

'Genocide' warning

The managing director of the Monitor group which owns KFM and The Monitor newspaper said he would challenge the sedition law in the constitutional court.

"This sedition law has no place in a democratic society - there is no need to criminalise the work of journalists," said Conrad Nkutu.

President Museveni said he was a close friend of John Garang
Mr Mwenda's show aired hours after Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni had warned the media not to report speculation about the crash.

Privately owned broadcaster KFM radio was closed down a day before Mr Mwenda's arrest.

Information Minister Nsaba Buturo said Mr Mwenda had compromised national and regional security by airing conspiracy theories about Mr Garang's death.

"Strong comments from Andrew Mwenda were made at the height of great tension inside the Sudan which had already led to the death of hundreds of people," Mr Buturo said.

"Everybody remembers what happened in Rwanda in 1994," he added, referring to the genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

Following Mr Garang's death, at least 130 people were killed in clashes in Sudan - often between southerners and northerners.

Mr Garang led a mainly Christian and animist southern rebel group in a 21-year civil war against the Muslim-dominated northern government.

He was named vice-president under January's peace deal.

Raging conspiracies

Mr Buturo and a KFM representative later said Mr Mwenda had accepted that some of the comments in his show were "inappropriate and intemperate".

Conspiracy theories on Mr Garang's death - ranging from sabotage to hijackings - have raged in the Ugandan media.

The decision to close KFM radio has angered opposition leaders.

Politician James Otieno told the BBC the move was "unacceptable", while the Uganda Journalist Association said the government had exceeded its powers.

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