Newsletter: Freedom of Expression in East Africa

Newsletter: Freedom of Expression in East Africa - Civic Space

At the printing press of Newsline, staff look at their most recent edition. Charles Kabonero (managing director) and his colleagues had to flee to Uganda after their independent weekly Umuseso newspaper was banned in their native country. Now working in exile in Kampala, Charles and his colleagues started a new newspaper Newsline.

October 2015

This monthly bulletin provides a snapshot of the status of Freedom of Expression in Eastern Africa. It is compiled by ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa with the assistance of its partners in the respective countries


October 9: A court acquitted three of the Zone 9 bloggers, Natnail Feleke, Atnaf Berhane and Abel Wabella from custody after 18 months of detention on terrorism and incitement charges. The Ethiopian court also released a fifth blogger, Soleyana Shimeles Gebremichael. Gebremichael fled to the United States and was facing charges in absentia.

Befekadu Hailu, the last of the Zone 9 bloggers was acquitted of terrorism charges but nonetheless is still in custody on charges of “inciting violence.”

The court found the documents provided by prosecutors insufficient to establish terrorism, dropping all charges. They had appeared in court 39 times during their stay in preventive detention.

In April 2014, Zone 9 bloggers and other journalists were detained and charged with terrorism for critical postings on their blog. In July 2015, ahead of US President Obama’s visit to the country, journalist Tesfalem Waldyes, and five other bloggers, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, Zelalem Kiberet Mahlet Fantahun and Edom Kassaye, were released.


October 29: Puntland Ministry of information sent a letter to local radio stations instructing them not to air the Voice of America (VOA) Somali news broadcasts until further notice warning they would face unspecified consequences should they fail to obey the order. The ban has since been lifted, according to a Somalia-based lobby group, Media Association of Puntland (MAP).

The ministry had accused VOA Somali service of spreading news that damaged the dignity of Puntland State. MAP said the ban was lifted a day after by the Puntland Ministry of information & cultural heritage during an interview with Daljir radio station in Garowe late-afternoon on 30 October.

“The Government has retreated from its decision from its prevention towards the VOA Somali news activities in Puntland; VOA Somali service is free to resume their services from now onwards…We have been in talks with them (VOA) and came to a mutual understanding,’’ said Soo’ade.

October 21: Investigative journalist and editor of Voice of the People Magazine, Ahmed Muuse Sakaaro was attacked and beaten outside the magazine’s offices in Somalia’s  northwestern territory of Somaliland by unidentified assailants. He suffered a broken nose and rib and was hospitalized. According to sources, the attackers demanded to know why Sakaaro was critical of Burao city mayor Mohamed Murad.

October 8: Two journalists Ali Dahir Salad and Abdullahi Hersi Kulmiye, working for a London-based Universal TV, were released from custody after being held for six days by the National Intelligence and Security Agency. Ali Dahir Salad and Abdullahi Hersi Kulmiye were arrested without a warrant when they responded to a summons to the Mogadishu headquarters of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) on 2 October.

NISA officers raided Universal TV’s offices later the same day, and shut the offices down. Universal TV’s Mogadishu station is yet to resume broadcasting in the Somali capital.


October 29: Enoch Matovu, a correspondent for a local television station, NTV, in Mityana District was reportedly shot in the head while covering an incident of election corruption during the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party elections at Bulera police station in Mityana district.

October 27: Haruna Mugerwa was assaulted while covering a story in which a police officer, Corporal Mbirimu Michael, was implicated in vote-rigging. The police officer was reportedly found with some pre-marked ballot papers hidden in his shirt and boots, hours before elections of NRM party elections.

Mugerwa was arrested and locked up in a private car at Mbirizzi trading center and later booked in a police patrol vehicle in where it’s said he was assaulted. He sustained injuries on the neck and his camera was destroyed. He has filed a case with police at Lwengo police station.

October 26: Kataggwa George was arrested and detained by police for a night on accusations of covering a meeting that was deemed “political” and not open to the public. His camera was confiscated by the police. Kataggwa and a colleague, Bahati Remmy were covering a scuffle between the Buyaga West County Member of Parliament Barnabas Tinkasimire and Dennis Namara who were contesting to be NRM party flag-bearer for Member of Parliament Buyaga West Constituency, Kibaale district in Western Uganda.

October 23: Four journalists asked the Court at Buganda Road to strike out a charge sheet in which they are allegedly joined improperly as parties to a criminal defamation case. Ronald Nahabwe and Benon Tugumisirize of the Red Pepper publication and Madinah Nalwanga and Patrick Tumwesige of the government owned Vision Group published defamatory statements against Kampala city businessmen Drake Lubega and Ephraim Ntaganda, when they reported that the duo was trailing one Ssegawa Tamale Juma to kill him over land ownership disputes. In a preliminary objection, through their defence lawyers; Wameli Anthony and Ochaya Tom, the journalists told the court that they were wrongly joined as parties in the same charge sheet since they work with different media houses, the content of the stories was different as well as the dates of publication.

October 15: Police in Jinja district in Eastern Uganda shot a Radio One correspondent in the area, Ivan Vincent Mukisa. He was covering a scuffle between police and supporters of Dr. Kizza Besigye, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential flag-bearer for the 2016 general elections.

Police fired teargas and rubber bullets at Besigye’ supporters who were protesting the arrest of one of their area leaders. Mukisa was admitted to a local health center. On the same day police arbitrarily arrested Alfred Ochwo, a journalist working with The Observer newspaper for taking photographs of the arrest of an opposition politician, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda at his home in Busiika, Kira Town Council in Wakiso District. Ochwo was detained for four hours before he was released without recording a statement or any charges.


October 16: a journalist based in Bungoma County in Western Kenya was attacked by unknown assailants. Godfrey Wamalwa, a newspaper reporter he was attacked and warned against writing negative stories about Bungoma County government.  Wamalwa said the assailants ambushed him at around 9pm,and poured an unknown chemical on his face before fleeing. He was admitted to a health centre, and later recorded a statement with police.

October 8: Nyeri County Assembly banned Kenya’s leading media, Nation Media Group (NMG) from covering its proceedings and committee meetings. Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) accused the media house of inciting the public against them and misreporting.

They cited a report by both NMG tevision station (NTV) and its daily newspaper the Nation which had previously revealed that each ward representative would control Sh6 million ($ 60,000) as a ward development fund and Sh15 million ($150,000) for public participation. The media house was also barred on grounds that it had highlighted a report by the Controller of Budget which showed that MCAs received Sh3 billion ($ 30 million) in allowances.


October 13: Egide Mwemero, a reporter for the independent Burundian station Radio Publique Africaine was arrested in Uvira in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) according to various reports. Mwemero, was arrested at the offices of Radio le Messager du Peuple alongside Congolese reporters Manzambi Mupenge and Lucien Kanana. The two journalists were released two days later, and it remains uhnclear why they were arrested and if they face any charges.