By Spy Uganda
Seven out of the nine arrested DigiTalk journalists were finally released yesterday (Tuesday), but author Norman Tumuhimbise and Faridah Bikobere remained in police cells and were today arraigned before the Magistrates court in Makindye for offensive communication, TheSpy Uganda has learnt.
The author is a critic of President Yoweri Museveni. Ugandan police say they were taken into custody after complaints of “offensive communication” from members of the public.
Documents presented to court state that the security personnel were armed with deadly weapons and brandished them “with gusto” as they stormed into the offices and made the arrests.
All nine of those arrested work for Digitalk, an online TV station led by Tumuhimbise who is the station’s CEO.
Tumuhimbise was due to launch two books critical of President Yoweri Museveni on March 30 titled ‘Politics of Komanyoko and Unsowing the mastered seed.
Their lawyer, Geoffrey Turyamusima, said the arrests show the government does not respect the public’s right to free speech.
“There has been continuous threats, especially for those who come out to speak the truth or the reality,” said Turyamusima. “And the state does not want people to know the truth, especially in regards to infringing on people’s right.”
Fred Enanga, the Uganda Police Force spokesperson, confirmed to journalists Monday that they were being held at the Special Investigations Division (SID) in Kampala.
“We always get complaints of offensive communication, hate crimes and polarization from certain sections of the public and concerned authorities. So, they were arrested along that,” said Enanga. “And, they are at SID in Kireka. There’s a joint task team that is handling their matter.”
Robert Sempala, the national coordinator Uganda Human Rights Network, said the journalists were being held incommunicado and the state should have only arrested Tumuhimbise instead of the whole newsroom.
Sempala said the state is trying to intimidate media outlets that air criticism of the president, causing a chilling effect.
“Meaning, they will even arrest you, torture you, detain you incommunicado, take you to court when there’s a lot of noise and they have no convicting evidence in any case,” said Sempala. “So, the implication is that the media is strictly being shrank going by the different manifestations that the powerful are resorting to.”
The arrest of Tumuhimbise and eight journalists comes just a month after Pen International award-winning author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was arrested, tortured and detained.
He was also charged with offensive communication for Twitter posts in which he made derogatory remarks about the president’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who is widely seen as Museveni’s possible successor.
Another author, Stella Nyanzi, was arrested in 2019 and jailed for 18 months for a poem criticizing the first family.