Drop charges against KTN journalist- press freedom advocates

The African Centre for Media Excellence has called for the immediate dropping of charges of abetting terrorism against television journalist Joy Doreen Biira.

Ms Biira, a Ugandan journalist based in Kenya was arrested on Saturday evening by police after sharing information in form of a video, Facebook post and tweets about the ongoing clashes in Kasese District.

“It’s a tragedy that they still have laws that equate telling the story about violence or insecurity or conflict to terrorism,” ACME’s executive director, Dr Peter Mwesige said.

Uganda security accused the journalist of “illegally filming military activities”. Ms Biira is a news anchor and TV presenter for KTN in Kenya.

However, Dr Mwesige said the arrest and charges are unfortunate. “It is really absurd that a journalist can be arrested, detained and charged simply for relaying images of what is going on, unwelcome as it is. We have always maintained that such laws infringe on the rights of journalists to express themselves and the rights of citizens to get access to information. I think that it is unfortunate and hope that the powers that be will see the folly in their actions and drop the charges against Biira.”

Ms Biira, who was arrested together with her husband and three friends was released on Monday evening after spending a night in a jail in Kasese. They were charged with abetting terrorism.

According to Uganda’s Anti-Terrorism law, anyone convicted of “publishing and disseminating news or materials that promote terrorism” is liable to suffer death.  Human rights advocates say that anti-terrorism laws are abused by several governments around the world and are sometimes used to suppress journalism.

Ms Biira was in Kasese for her traditional wedding on Saturday when the fighting between Uganda Security forces and guards loyal to the King of Rwenzuru, Charles Wesley Mumbere broke out. Government claims the royal guards are allied to militias advocating for secession and creation of the Yiira Republic.

Ms Biira who was still in Kasese on Sunday, filmed the army and police raid on the king’s palace while at her uncle’s home.

The coordinator of the Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda, Mr Robert Ssempala also condemned the authorities for preferring the charges on the journalist.

“We find the charges of abetting terrorism slapped against the journalist and the four family members very ridiculous, unfounded and a shame, only intended to harass and intimidate journalists covering the developments.

He added: “We call upon the State to drop the charges, and ensure the safety and security of journalists covering the events in the volatile region.

Standard Group based in Kenya under which KTV TV falls also called for the charges against Biira to be dropped, saying she was only doing what every journalist would do if found in the same situation.

The arrest, detention and charging of the journalist was condemned by many on Twitter and Facebook.

When news of Ms Biira’s arrest trickled in Sunday evening, many social media users in both Kenya and Uganda called for her release via the #FreeJoyDoreen hashtag.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>The truth (and journalists posting uncomfortable truths) is the first casualty of war. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/FreeJoy?src=hash”>#FreeJoy</a></p>&mdash; Daniel Kalinaki (@Kalinaki) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Kalinaki/status/802990493659516928″>November 27, 2016</a></blockquote>
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By Tuesday, Ms Biira was still very shaken from the experience when we visited her. She thanked all those who advocated for her release.



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