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Journalist accused of "abetting terrorism" for covering clashes in Rwenzururu

Joy Doreen Biira is received by relatives following her release from Kasese police station, in Western Uganda
Joy Doreen Biira is received by relatives following her release from Kasese police station, in Western Uganda


This statement was originally published on on 29 November 2016.

On the evening of 28 November 2016, Joy Doreen Biira, a Ugandan journalist working with KTN Television in Kenya, was charged with "abetting terrorism" after being detained at the police station for about 24 hours in Kasese, southwestern Uganda. Upon conviction, the ultimate sentence for such a crime is death.

She – along with four family members – were released on police bond and required to report back on 8 December 2016.

Biira and the other family members were arrested by the Ugandan army at their family home in Kasese. They were accused of taking photographs of the fights going on in the Rwenzururu subregion.

Biira was in the country to perform a cultural marriage ceremony which saw her introduce her Kenyan boyfriend to her parents. Her boyfriend was among the five arrested.

Her uncle – from whose home they were arrested – told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that armed men in army uniforms stormed his home and arrested the journalist and four others family members. “The army stormed my home after seeing a camera flash. They demanded to know who had photographed the scene. They ordered me to bring out all the inmates at the time, lined them up, confiscated all their cellphones and drove them away to unknown destination,” Dr. Nathaniel Walemba told HRNJ-Uganda at the Kasese Central Police Station, where the five were being detained.

“It is surprising that Biira and my son – who were both sleeping in the house at the time – were all charged with abetting terrorism, yet even the picture found on the confiscated still camera had not been circulated or used anywhere. Am happy that they were finally released. We wait to see what happens next,” said Dr. Walemba.

On 28 November 2016, army men re-appeared at doctor's home and searched it, then went away with a still camera.

The security has since confiscated a memory card, laptop and car keys.

On 26 November, 2016 a fierce fight erupted between the royal guards of the cultural institution of the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu in Kasese and the Ugandan police and army which has left over forty royal guards and 16 police officers dead with over 139 royal guards including the King arrested.

Social media was awash with pictures and videos of brutally murdered people in the subregion as a result of the scuffle. The police say it is not clear who was taking and sharing such material.

“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. As a journalist, one is allowed to receive and share information, until that position is outlawed. We call upon the State to drop the charges, and in likely circumstances, ensure the safety and security of journalists covering the events in the volatile region,” said HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala

What other IFEX members are saying
  • RSF asks charges against Ugandan journalist be dropped

    "We are concerned about the terrorism charges that have been brought against Joy Doreen Biira, who just did her job as a journalist by covering an exceptional event," said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. "We urge the state prosecutor not to confirm the charges and to drop all the proceedings against her."

  • Uganda: Investigate Killings in Rwenzori Region

    Journalists should be able to report on events of public interest without fear of arrest or intimidation from state forces, Human Rights Watch said.

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