Rights groups urge Uganda to free 2 detained journalists

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Rights groups urged Ugandan authorities to free two journalists detained for days over allegations of “offensive communication” targeting President Yoweri Museveni.

The journalists, Norman Tumuhimbise and Faridah Bikobere, have been in custody since March 10, when security forces raided the premises of their online outlet and arrested several people.

Although seven colleagues later were freed on Wednesday, Tumuhimbise and Bikobere were remanded to prison.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders are calling for their immediate release.

“Authorities should unconditionally release Norman Tumuhimbise and Faridah Bikobere, drop all charges against them, end all investigations against other The Alternative Digitalk journalists, and return their confiscated equipment,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. “Allegations that these journalists have been severely physically abused should be investigated credibly, holding anyone responsible to account.”

Tumuhimbise and Bikobere were arrested for their role in publicizing two books by Tumuhimbise that are critical of Museveni’s policies since he came to power in 1986, according to Reporters Without Borders.

“Because of a book critical of the president, you’re treated like suspected terrorists. The prolonged detention of these two journalists, who are still in prison, is as serious as it is unjustified,” the group’s Arnaud Froger said in a statement.

Ugandan authorities in recent years have been aggressive in pursuing criminal charges against suspects accused of offenses that allegedly “disturb the peace” of the president.

Ugandan author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija recently fled to exile in Germany after being held in custody for nearly a month. He alleges that he was tortured by officials, but authorities deny his accusation.

In a series of tweets late last year, Rukirabashaija described Museveni as an election thief and his son, infantry commander Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as an overweight and “intellectually bankrupt” soldier who hopes to succeed his father as president.

That case renewed focus on the alleged excesses of the security forces in enforcing Museveni’s authority. The U.S. has expressed concern over rights abuses perpetrated by the security forces.

Museveni, once praised as part of a new generation of African leaders and a U.S. security ally, still has support among many Ugandans for bringing relative stability to the country. He once criticized African leaders who refused to step aside but has since overseen the removal of term limits and an age limit on Uganda’s presidency.

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