Media Series: Censorship and Expression in Uganda's Elections

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(Held on Tuesday October 13, 2020 from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM (EAT)

On Monday, April 13, 2020, Uganda military intelligence agency, CMI, arrested, detained and tortured Mr. Kakwenza Rukirabashiza, a novelist and government critic. He endured this ordeal for 7 days without access to family, doctor or personal attorney. At the time of his detention, he was questioned about his published political fiction works ‘The Greedy Barbarian’, a book about a greedy dictator who clings to power for 43 years.

Following mounting pressure on social media and a court order for his release, Mr. Rukirabashiza was charged before the Iganga Magistrates Court for ‘doing acts likely to spread a disease.’

The court remanded him to prison for two weeks. Upon gaining his freedom on bail, Mr. Rukirabashiza wrote a second title ‘Banana Republic; Where Writing is Treasonous’ chronicling his interrogation, torture and ordeal in the hands of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI). He was again arrested, tortured, interrogated and charged with the offence of sectarianism. He awaits his trial for before a Court of law.

Mr. Rukirabashiza’s ordeal is all too common especially during electoral periods and bears a striking resemblance to past actions of the Ugandan State to censor books and other works deemed inconvenient or critical of the State and its excess.

In 2012, a collection of calendars by the civil society group Twaweza encouraging people to make change happen were confiscated and destroyed. Mr. Daniel Kalinaki was prevented from crossing into Uganda with copies of his book; Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution (2014). In 2017, Dr. Olive Kobusingye’s books about President Museveni ‘The Correct Line? Uganda Under Museveni (2010) were impounded by customs officials at the time they were being imported into Uganda.

More recently, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion (HRAFP) Founder, Dr. Adrian Jjuuko’s book, Strategic Litigation and the struggle for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Equality in Africa, a publication of his Ph.D. thesis was impounded by the Uganda government. The book is ostensibly being verified by the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity in the Office of the President. At the moment the book is unavailable to the public.

The media regulator has also actively worked to enforce censorship of political ideas. In May 2019, the media regulator ordered 7 radio and 6 television stations to immediately suspend 39 journalists after the stations covered the opposition politician Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi, commonly referred to as Bobi Wine and his violent arrest by the Uganda Police. The development came on the backdrop of a spate of activities to censor the voices of opposition political leaders, pro-democracy and human rights actors from political participation including the introduction of 19 regulations from the media regulator to censor artist expression.

The steps taken by the State in handling publications of the nature described above impeded media freedom, impair artistic expressions and threatened academic freedom. It seeks to shield the state from constructive criticism, satire and ultimately leads to state censorship and in many case drives people into self-censorship.