The IPI global network of journalists, publishers, and editors calls for the immediate release of Norman Tumuhimbise and Faridah Bikobere, journalists with Uganda’s Alternative Digitalk TV who were arrested on March 10. Authorities must drop the charges against Tumuhimbise and Bikobere, who are being held for “cyber stalking” the Ugandan president, and cease their harassment of the country’s journalists.
Tumuhimbise and Bikobere were detained after security forces raided the offices of independent online television station Alternative Digitalk TV in Kampala, arresting nine staff members, according to reports.
Tumuhimbise is a prominent writer and activist who is also the head of Alternative Digitalk TV. Bikobere works as a newscaster for the station.
Both have been charged under Uganda’s 2011 Computer Misuse Act for cyber stalking and relaying “offensive communication” about Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. They have been remanded to a maximum security prison in Kampala. If found guilty, they could face up to one year in prison or a fine.
It is not clear which specific statements by the journalists have been identified by the criminal complaint. Tumuhimbise is due to publish a book that is critical of President Museveni on March 30, according to reports. His lawyer told the press that the staff of Alternative Digitalk TV were rounded up, put into a van, and their telephones, laptops, recorders and cameras were confiscated.
The other seven journalists were released without charges.
“Ugandan authorities should swiftly release Norman Tumuhimbise and Faridah Bikobere and drop all charges against them”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “This case underscores the threat to press freedom and free expression posed by vague laws on causing offence. Ugandan journalists must be free to criticize those in positions of power.”