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Uganda targets journalists on World Press Freedom Day

Ugandan pop star and opposition figure Bobi Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, appears for his bail application via a video link from prison, on a television screen in a court in Kampala, Uganda Thursday, May 2, 2019. Wine was freed on bail Thursday after spending three nights in a maximum-security prison after being charged with disobeying statutory authority and facing trial over staging a street protest in July against a tax on social media. (AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — As World Press Freedom Day was celebrated on Friday, television and radio stations in Uganda were being targeted over coverage of an opposition figure’s appearance in court.

Journalists have protested the ordered suspension of news leaders at 13 stations over what the Uganda Communications Commission called “repeated breach of minimum broadcasting standards.” The commission accuses them of carrying “extremist or anarchic messages, including incitement of violence.”

The local association of broadcasters indicated it will oppose the directive. The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged authorities to rescind it.

The crackdown is thought to be related this week’s coverage of pop star and opposition lawmaker Bobi Wine, a powerful voice for young people disenchanted with President Yoweri Museveni’s long rule. The singer is charged with disobeying statutory authority with a protest last year over a tax on social media.

As Ethiopia hosted the main World Press Freedom Day celebrations, journalists and bloggers raised the alarm over moves to legislate hate speech.

Befkadu Hailu, a prominent Ethiopian blogger who was jailed for several months over his writing before a reformist new prime minister came to power a year ago, said the hate speech law that Ethiopia has drafted “is not the best way to combat hate speech.”

He added that media literacy should be taken seriously as fake news items spread quickly across social media sites. “At the moment, we have no media literacy here in Ethiopia. People can barely differentiate between facts and opinions.”

Other Ethiopian journalists also said they don’t believe legislation is the best way to curb hate speech given the country’s history in using laws to silence dissenting opinions.

Ethiopia hosted the main World Press Freedom Day event in recognition of recent political reforms.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the East African nation currently has no journalists behind bars and new publications are flourishing. But the CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo, has noted that journalists “are anxious for the freedoms they are enjoying to be rooted in law rather than guaranteed only by the goodwill” of the current government.

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Muhumuza reported from Kampala, Uganda.

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