Report: Uganda Arresting, Torturing Journalists for Coronavirus Content

A health worker wears protective gears at the Mpondwe Health Screening Facility in the Uganda border town with the Democratic Republic of Congo, on June 13, 2019. - A grandmother in Uganda has died from Ebola, health officials said on June 12, 2019, the second fatality in the country since …
ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP via Getty Images

Ugandan security forces arrested and allegedly tortured a writer last week and arrested a television news anchor this week in two separate incidents, reportedly for their social media posts related to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, Voice of America (VOA) reported on Tuesday.

Author and activist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija appeared in court on April 20, charged with “conducting an act likely to spread a disease,” referring to the Chinese coronavirus. Kakwenza’s lawyer claims “torture marks” were visible on his body after his release from detention.

Police detained TV anchor Samson Kasumba on April 20 and said he was under investigation for “alleged subversive activities.” Kasumba was released on police bond on April 21, according to Uganda’s PML Daily.

A political activist linked to Uganda’s main opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Kakwenza was arrested on April 13 by military police, who raided his home in Iganga, Eastern Uganda, Amnesty International reported on Monday.

After his arrest, Kakwenza was charged with conducting an act likely to spread a disease. Amnesty International said he was also charged with defamation and cyber-related crimes.

On Monday, Kakwenza’s lawyer, Eron Kiiza, told VOA that his client displayed “torture marks” on his body after his release from detention in military barracks.

“They produced him in court … in Iganga and he was remanded up to May 6. They refused him the chance to make his bail application yesterday, and he has some torture marks, especially on his feet,” Kiiza said. “But we are happy that he’s at least [been transferred] from military detention to civil detention.”

Kakwenza is the author of The Greedy Barbarian, widely viewed as a commentary on Uganda’s authoritarian leader, Yoweri Museveni. According to the human rights organization Amnesty International, the book “criticizes the ruling first family of Uganda.”

Kakwenza stood accused of posting a Facebook message on April 6 that allegedly discouraged the public from complying with public health guidelines issued to curb the spread of Chinese coronavirus. He has also been “documenting cases of police killings and brutality during the ongoing Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] lockdown in Uganda,” according to Amnesty International.

In the post, Kakwenza included a picture taken inside a market, showing how people in Iganga were ignoring government guidelines on physical distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. According to VOA, Kakwenza’s message urged Museveni to “be serious” about coronavirus guidelines and said, “If the country plunges into the abyss of famine … never blame coronavirus but yourself and bigoted methods.”

On April 14, Museveni extended Uganda’s 14-day lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus for three more weeks, until May 5. Under the lockdown, public transportation and large gatherings are banned. A nighttime curfew has been enforced, and schools are closed. Only groups of five or less are allowed to be together in public.

In a separate incident, police arrested a Kampala television anchor, Samson Kasumba, on April 20.

“He’s a subject of investigation and it’s not connected in any way to his journalistic work. But he’s being investigated together with others for alleged subversive activities,” police spokesman Fred Enanga reportedly said, without specifying what the “alleged activities” were.

Upon his release on police bond on April 21, Kasumba was interviewed by NBS TV, his employer. Kasumba said police told him that he had been arrested because he “acted seditiously, undermining the authority of the government of the Republic of Uganda” and for “spreading harmful propaganda.”

Over the weekend, Kasuma posted a Facebook message that said that recoveries have surpassed active cases in Uganda. He asked if Uganda was the first country to accomplish this.

VOA reported on Monday that media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has recorded 65 press freedom violations in sub-Saharan Africa since the pandemic arrived on the continent; African authorities in multiple countries have been cracking down on journalists who question the government’s official narrative on the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, Ugandan officials arrested a pastor for claiming coronavirus “does not exist in Africa.” Authorities also arrested almost 30 people for violating the country’s current coronavirus ban on large gatherings when they met for church services.

At press time on Wednesday, Uganda had officially reported 61 infections and zero deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.

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