Court blocks government bid to suspend journalists over Bobi Wine arrest

Thursday May 23 2019

Ugandan musician turned politician Robert

Ugandan musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, commonly known as Bobi Wine, is arrested by police on his way to a press conference held to announce the cancelation of his show at Busabala, Uganda, on April 22, 2019. AFP PHOTO 

By JULIET KIGONGO

A section of journalists were on Thursday seen celebrating after High Court blocked a government bid to suspend 39 top journalists from 13 media houses, on the grounds that their coverage of the arrest of Bobi Wine had endangered national security.
The Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) earlier this month called for 13 radio and TV stations to suspend their news editors, producers and heads of programming over their coverage of the latest detention of the popular rapper and politician.

Two activists petitioned the court on behalf of the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) to have the order struck down.
“I am mindful of UCC regulatory mandate and national security at large, but this does not mean that the rights of citizens have to be violated. Its threats have to be demonstrated. The application is allowed and injunction ordered against the respondent (the UCC)."
The judge also wondered why a case of possible incitement of violence was reported to UCC instead of police.

“I have to consider that the meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) on May 9, 2019 in which the two agreed that the 39 journalists step aside instead of being suspended is merely an attempt to defeat justice on matters before court. I therefore find that there is a status quo to be maintained,” justice Mugambe ruled.
Justice Mugambe, however, noted that at this stage she could not determine whether the applicants will suffer irreparable loss, balance of convenience thus ordering that all parties bare their own costs.

The ruling was hailed by journalists present in court.
"This is a historical ruling that has shaped the rights and principles of our profession," the UJA's head of media safety and human rights Arnold Anthony Mukose told other journalists.
"We have been trampled upon by illegal, oppressive and irrational directives not only from UCC but other state agencies. In this case the judiciary has stood with us," he added.

UCC lawyer Abdu Salaam Waisswa said: "We are going to analyse the ruling and see the way forward."
The UCC order prompted diplomats from the EU, US and another 14 countries to raise alarm about Uganda's clampdown on media freedom and protests.

Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was detained for allegedly staging an illegal protest in 2018 -- charges fellow opposition MPs have decried as ridiculous -- and later freed on bail.
The popular singer is the figurehead of a new generation who grew up under President Museveni but want to see change.
He has emerged as a real challenger to the veteran president who intends to run for a sixth term in 2021.

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