Uganda: Journalists charged with Criminal Defamation

Two Red Pepper journalists were on August 19, 2015, released almost a week later since they were remanded to Luzira after failing to pay cash bail of 2 million Uganda shillings (USD571) each. Nahabwe Ronald and Tugumisiirize Benon were on August 13, 2015 charged with criminal defamation before Buganda Road Chief Magistrate, Lillian Bucyana and granted bail, but they failed to raise the money and were remanded to prison up to September 9, 2015. The New Vision’ Madina Nalwanga and Patrick Tumwesigye were released on that day after paying the money.

A team of lawyers including HRNJ-Uganda’s Diana Nandudu and Kenneth Ntende applied for a production warrant before the Chief Magistrate which was obtained on August 18th , 2015, resulting into the duo’s release the next day at about 1:00pm local time.

On August 13, 2015, Nahabwe, and Tugumisirize together Nalwanga and Tumwesigye were charged with six counts of criminal defamation. According to the charge sheet, the four allegedly wrote and published in their respective newspapers defamatory statements against two Kampala businessmen, Ntaganda Ephraim and Francis Drake Lubega. However, the charge sheet does not specifically disclose the criminal defamatory statement alleged to have been published by the victim journalists.

Prosecution of the four brings the number of journalists in Uganda with pending criminal defamation cases to sixteen. Sections 179 and 180 of the Penal Code Act which provide for the offence of criminal defamation are being challenged in the East African Court of Justice, contending that their continued use is a violation of the fundamental and operating principles of the East African Community Treaty. Hearing of this case commenced on July 13, 2015 in Arusha, Tanzania.

Nahabwe described the spell in jail as a very difficult time, “It has been a very difficult time for us but we believe we shall go through it. We were ambushed when we appeared in court and remanded to Luzira Prison.” He told HRNJ-Uganda.

Ntaganda recently told HRNJ-Uganda that the four journalists were added on to the case after declining to reveal their sources of information to police and testifying against them in court.

“We believe that these are trampled up charges. We are disturbed by the unjustified huge amount of money asked by the court from the journalists so as to secure their freedom. The conditions of granting bail are generally supposed to be reasonable. Therefore court should not use hash bail conditions to deny suspects justice.” said the HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator Robert Ssempala.