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INDEPENDENT RADIO STATION CLOSED, JOURNALIST CHARGED

Ugandan authorities have closed a local private radio station, K-FM, and charged a talk show host with sedition after he alleged that the recent death of former Sudanese Vice President John Garang was caused by the "incompetence" of the Ugandan government, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

On 11 August 2005, authorities ordered K-FM closed, a day after President Yoweri Museveni threatened to shut down any news media that acted like "vultures" and "play[ed] around with regional security," says RSF. His comment came in response to media reports that have been ripe with rumours about the causes of Garang's death. The former rebel leader died on 30 July when the Ugandan presidential helicopter he was traveling in crashed in southern Sudan, three weeks after he was sworn in as Sudan's vice-president.

Andrew Mwenda, who hosts a phone-in show on K-FM, had discussed the helicopter crash and the president's threats to ban media. He made remarks suggesting that government incompetence led to the crash of the helicopter carrying Garang. On 12 August, Mwenda was arrested and charged with sedition, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, says CPJ. He was accused of seeking to "bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection" against President Museveni. He spent three days in police detention before he was released on 15 August after posting 10.5 million Ugandan Shillings (US$5,800) in bail.

Mwenda is also political editor at "The Monitor", an independent daily owned by Monitor Publications. The media company, which also owns K-FM, plans to appeal the sedition charge in court.

CPJ, RSF and IFJ have called on Ugandan authorities to reopen K-FM and to immediately drop the charges against Mwenda.

This is not the first time that Ugandan journalists who report on "national security issues" have been silenced. In October 2002, Frank Nyakairu, a reporter with the "The Monitor", was arrested after he published a report claiming that an army helicopter had crashed in northern Uganda, where government troops have waged a bloody war against the rebel Lord's Resistance Army for the last 18 years (see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/31969/).

Visit these links:
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=14687
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Uganda15aug05na.html
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=3304&Language=EN
- Reuters: Ugandan Reporter Denies Sedition Over Garang Remarks: http://tinyurl.com/bpx77
- Human Rights Watch: http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Uganda15aug05na.html
- Obituary of John Garang: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/2134220.stm

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