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Uganda: Police and President’s Representative arrest Radio Station Manager for criticizing the President

Police and the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) for Gulu District in Northern Uganda, on July 21, 2015 arrested Payira Bonny a radio talk-show host who is also the Programmes Manager of Jal Fresh FM, for allegedly using abusive language against the Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni during a one hour talk-show which discussed political developments in the country.

Payira was arrested along with Okot Thomas Oloya a.k.a Toko a student at Gulu University, Okyak Silva -a former Guild President of Gulu University and Agwen Samuel the Local Councilor for Laroo Division in Gulu Municipality. The trio had been hosted in the current affairs programme which airs from 7pm to 8pm local time from Monday to Friday.

A source told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda that Payira was arrested from Roma hotel by RDC Andrew Moses Awinyi and the District Police Commander for Gulu District, Martin Okoyo. “They arrested Payira and put him in their car without informing him the reason for his arrest. He was taken to Gulu Police Station, where he recorded a statement before being locked up in the cells”. Payira and others where still detained at the time of publishing this brief.

It is alleged that during the talk-show, the trio criticized President Museveni for commissioning the Gulu-Atiak road that is reportedly not complete. The Regional Police Commander for Northern Region Wilson Kwanya, accused the suspects of hatred against the president. “What caused the problem is abusive language against the Head of State. They have hatred against the president. They were abusing him on radio. So when we got information about that, we went and arrested them for questioning. We intend to take them to court.” Kwanya told HRNJ-Uganda. Okoyo declined to comment, referring HRNJ-Uganda to the Officer in Charge of Investigations, whose cellphone couldn’t go through.

The Jal Fresh radio Director, Eng. David Mwaka told HRNJ-Uganda that he was yet to listen to the said program recording, “The police are not saying much, no charges, no nothing as of now. I have asked for the recording of the show. Am sure that as a radio, we act under the law; even if it is to criticize the president, we do it positively. They should release them on bond or take them to court to be heard.”

“The police and RDC should not stifle debate and discussion on matters of public interest as this is a key ingredient of a free and democratic society. The President as the Chief Executive of the country is not immune to criticism. The aggrieved party of such criticism should petition the Media Council, rather than criminalizing free speech.” Said the HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala


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