Freedom of the Press
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Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, laws enacted in the name of national security, along with the harassment of journalists who cover "sensitive" issues such as the country's civil war and the arrest of opposition leader and presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, have negated the constitutional provisions in practice. Several statutes require journalists to be licensed and meet certain standards, and a Sedition Law remains in force and has been used to prosecute journalists.
While the Ugandan press is widely reputed to be independent, the atmosphere for journalists worsened considerably in the run-up to the February 2006 elections, leading to concerns of a chilling effect among independent media. At least three journalists faced serious criminal charges for their reporting. In addition, the president has on several occasions instructed the media not to comment on matters of public interest. After the controversial arrest of Kizza Besigye on November 14, President Yoweri Museveni banned privately owned radio stations from commenting on or debating Besigye's upcoming trials for treason and rape charges. In August, talk show host Andrew Mwenda was arrested and charged with several criminal violations, including sedition and "promoting sectarianism," in connection with a call-in show on the privately owned KFM radio station that discussed the helicopter crash that killed southern Sudanese leader John Garang. The arrest occurred days after President Museveni ordered the media not to speculate on the cause of the crash. KFM was also shut down for a week as a result of Mwenda's remarks. The government defended its actions by stating that Mwenda's comments "compromised national and regional security" and could have "sparked a genocide." Mwenda subsequently appealed to the Constitutional Court, challenging the constitutionality of the Sedition Law on the grounds that it violates freedom of expression; his case was awaiting a decision at year's end.
In November, the privately owned newspaper Daily Monitor had its premises raided after publishing an advertisement appealing for donations for the legal defense of Besigye. The paper, a frequent target of harassment by the government, had earlier been threatened with closure after publishing a report on the president's first choice for the head of the armed forces. On December 13, editor James Tumusiime and reporter Semujju Ibrahim Nganda of the privately owned Weekly Observer were arrested and charged with "promoting sectarianism" after Nganda wrote a report stating that the opposition Forum for Democratic Change party had accused President Museveni and three top military officials of persecuting Besigye on ethnic grounds. No trial date has been set, but the two face up to five years in prison. In January, Mohammed Abdullah Ould Memmine, a special envoy for the Arabic-language Iranian television news station Al-Alam, was arrested and de¬tained when he tried to enter Uganda to cover the visit of Mohammad Khatami, then president of Ira¬n. Media organizations believe that prejudice against Arabs may have been the motivation for his arrest.
Independent media outlets, including more than two dozen daily and weekly newspapers as well as about 100 private radio and television stations, have mushroomed since the government loosened control in 1993, and they are often highly critical of the government and offer a range of opposition views. However, high annual licensing fees for radio and television stations place some financial restraints on the broadcast media. The state broadcasters, including Radio Uganda, the only national radio station, wield considerable clout and are generally viewed as sympathetic to the government. There is no restriction on internet access, but less than 1 percent of the population had the means to access it in 2005.