Kampala, 17th/August/2015; Four journalists were on 13th August, this year charged with criminal defamation at the Buganda Road court in Kampala. The four -two from a daily tabloid the Red Pepperand two others from the New Vision all denied the charges and applied for bail. The case was opened against the journalists by two city businessmen Drake Lubega and Ntaganda Ephraim who accuse them of declining to implicate their source of information, one Ssegawa Juma Tamale.
Ronald Nahabwe and Benson Tugumisirize of the Red Pepper together with Madina Nalwanga and Patrick Tumwesigye of the New Vision appeared before the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate Lillian Buchyana to answer charges of criminal libel on 13th August 2015. All the four journalists were granted cash bail of two million shillings each. New Vision managed to secure bail for its journalists while the Red Pepper journalists were remanded to Luzira Prison till 9th September 2015 for failure to pay the bail money in time.
Ntaganda told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda that the journalists were charged with defamation after failing to implicate their source of news. “…the case was never filed against the journalists, but they just wrote a story that I and Drake Lubega were trailing Segawa to kill him. We requested the journalists to go to police and make statements that this information had been given to them by Segawa Juma Tamale but the boys and one lady refused to disclose the sources of information and court decided to add them as suspects.” Ntaganda said.
Nalwanga told HRNJ-Uganda that they received information about fraudulent land transactions among some traders at Kisekka Market where the duo Lubega and Ntaganda were involved. On 4th June 2015, the Vision Group’ local paper Bukedde published a story regarding the fraudulent transactions. Red Pepper and its sister paper Hello had earlier in May this year published a similar story.
The case was adjourned to 9th Sept. 2015. The Red Pepper journalists are still on remand in Luzira prison.
In 2014, a former CBS radio journalist Ronald Ssembusi (now deceased) filed a case at the East African Court of Justice challenging sections 179 and 180 of the Penal Code Act. In his application Ssembusi contends that the continued use of the above sections which provide for the offence of criminal defamation is a violation of the fundamental and operating principles of the East African Community Treaty. Hearing of this case commenced on 31st July 2015 in Arusha, Tanzania.
“Defamation cases against journalists by people with economic muscles are on the increase. This is intended to silence journalists from critical and constructive reporting about the wild misuse of power. We appeal to the judiciary to exercise its independence and deliver justice in this case as this is intended to coerce journalists into revealing their sources of information to police. Journalists should not accept to testify against their sources as this will erode away public confidence in the media.” said the HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator Robert Ssempala.