Timothy Kalyegira, a former Daily Monitor columnist and current publisher of an online newspaper, yesterday became the first Ugandan to face sedition charges arising from the use of new media.
Police on Monday summoned Mr Kalyegira to appear for interrogation over reports that questioned whether it was really the Somali-based militants, the al-Shabaab, that bombed and killed atleast 80 people and injured others in Kampala last month.
He was yesterday charged with sedition and released on bond after spending seven hours at Kira Road Police Station. Daily Monitor’s Investigations Editor Chris Obore and society writer Robert Kalumba stood surety and were ordered by Divisional CID boss Prudence Haguma, to produce Mr Kalyegira in police today for further questioning. She refused to comment about the proceedings. Mr Obore said, “What Timothy [Kalyegira] wrote was within the realm of press freedom; he is free to express his views and if anyone feels offended, they should provide what they think is correct but not strangle other views.”
The police had planned to search Mr Kalyegira’s home yesterday but were discouraged by lack of transport and time as the questioning went past 6 pm. Mr Kalyegira’s website, www.ugandarecord.co.ug, has questioned the official line in the 7/11 bombings. A debate over this view has been raging on the site – as well as other websites and forums. Till now, sedition charges have been brought against print and broadcast journalists.
The arrest of an online publisher breaks new ground for the police whose Media Crimes Division led yesterday’s interrogation of Mr Kalyegira. “They questioned him about his publication that the government could have been behind the bomb attacks,” said his lawyer and human rights advocate Ladislaus Rwakafuzi. He said the police may also have been interested in Mr Kalyegira’s sources.
“They took his phone and seemed quite excited by his correspondences,” Mr Rwakafuzi said.
Yesterday, Mr Kalyegira said he thought the police were keen to see if his sources were in anyway linked to the Rwandan government. “There is paranoia about Rwanda and they seem to want to see if there is a link but there is none,” he said soon after he and his lawyer walked out of the police. The journalist’s wife spent much of the afternoon with him. Mr Ssebagala Wokulira of the Journalism Protection Network, who came to the police station, said, “It’s up to journalists to fight for this space.”
He said the police had managed to keep the journalist occupied the whole day and away from his main job. The World Cup bomb blasts on July 11 have led to one of the most wide ranging security dragnets that have led to close to 40 arrests. However, till now – and unlike the disturbances of September 2009- the media have not been an issue.
The security minister, Mr Amama Mbabazi, has also pushed through an eavesdropping law- which now allows authorities access to phone-calls, emails and other communication from any individual. The al -Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack in retaliation for Uganda’s involvement in peacekeeping operations in Somalia.