Ugandan author and activist Norman Tumuhimbise and a female journalist have been charged with cyber-stalking the country’s president, their lawyer told AFP Thursday, the second writer to be arrested by the authorities recently.
Tumuhimbise, who heads local pressure group The Alternative Movement and an online media platform Alternative Digitalk TV, was due to launch a book critical of President Yoweri Museveni on March 30.
The 36-year-old was among nine journalists arrested for offensive communication a week ago. Seven were released without being charged, his lawyer Eron Kiiza said.
“Norman Tumuhimbise and his colleague, Farida Bikobere, who works with him at Digitalk TV, were charged with cyber-stalking the president,” Kiiza told AFP.
Following Wednesday’s hearing, “The two denied the charges and were remanded to Luzira prison until March 21,” he said, referring to a maximum-security facility in the capital Kampala.
“Both were tortured like the other journalists with whom they were arrested.”
According to court documents seen by AFP, prosecutors allege Tumuhimbise and Bikobere used their online platform to relay “offensive communication… directed against the person of the President of Uganda”.
Tumuhimbise and his colleagues were reportedly bundled into a van by armed security personnel last week, with Kiiza alleging that police also confiscated phones, laptops, recorders and cameras from the media outlet.
Tumuhimbise is the second writer to be charged with offensive communication in recent months.
Award-winning Ugandan author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija fled to Germany last month to seek medical treatment after allegedly having been tortured following his detention on charges of insulting Museveni and his son.
Rukirabashaija’s arrest had raised international concern, with both the European Union and the United States calling for his release.
The charges against Rukirabashaija related to unflattering comments on Twitter about Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, and his powerful son Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
In one post he described Kainerugaba, a general who many Ugandans believe is positioning himself to take over from his 77-year-old father, as “obese” and a “curmudgeon”.
Uganda has witnessed a series of crackdowns aimed at stamping out dissent, with journalists attacked, lawyers jailed, election monitors prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled.
If convicted, Tumuhimbise and Bikobere risk a year in jail and/or a fine, under the computer misuse act.
A court in Uganda on Tuesday charged a prominent author and government critic with “disturbing” the country’s President Yoweri Museveni and his son in unflattering social media posts.
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was charged with two counts of “offensive communication” and remanded in prison until January 21, said Charles Twine, spokesman for the Police Criminal Investigations Department.
Rukirabashaija, who last year won an international award for persecuted writers, was arrested at his home on December 28 and allegedly tortured after posting on Twitter about Museveni and his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
In one post, the satirical writer had described Kainerugaba — a general who many Ugandans believe is positioning himself to take over from his 77-year-old father — as “obese” and a “curmudgeon”.
In a charge sheet released by Buganda Road Court in Kampala, state prosecutors said Rukirabashaija “willfully and repeatedly used his Twitter handle to disturb the peace of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Uganda, Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni with no purpose of legitimate communication”.
On the second count, Rukirabashaija was accused of the same offence against Kainerugaba.
Rukirabashaija’s lawyer Eron Kiiza confirmed the charges and his client’s detention in a brief text message.
Under the Computer Misuse Act, the charge of “offensive communication” can carry a year in jail.
The government had challenged an earlier court order to unconditionally release Rukirabashaija from police custody.
The 33-year-old’s detention sparked calls from the United States, the European Union, and civil society groups for his immediate release and protection from persecution.
The author won acclaim for his 2020 satirical novel, “The Greedy Barbarian”, which describes high-level corruption in a fictional country.
He was awarded the 2021 PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage, which is presented annually to a writer who has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs.
Rukirabashaija has been repeatedly arrested since “The Greedy Barbarian” was published. He has said he was tortured while being interrogated by military intelligence about his work.
A prominent Ugandan academic arrested on accusations of spying for regional rival Rwanda has been released following an intervention by President Yoweri Museveni, a businessman familiar with the case said on Saturday.
Lawrence Muganga, 45, vice-chancellor of the private Victoria University, was arrested on Thursday by joint security forces for suspected “espionage and illegal stay”, according to a military spokeswoman.
Video from university security cameras posted online showed Muganga being taken in broad daylight from his Kampala office by armed plain clothes men and uniformed soldiers and put into a van known as a “drone”, which is associated with abductions of government opponents.
Frank Gashumba, a friend of Muganga and one of Uganda’s most prominent businessmen, told AFP that the academic had been freed on Friday after he (Gashumba) raised the case with Museveni.
There was no immediate confirmation from the government of his release.
Gashumba said Muganga, who is of Rwandan ethnicity, was taken to Uganda’s military intelligence agency headquarters where he was questioned about alleged spying for Kigali.
Gashumba told AFP he secured a meeting with Museveni who he said was “shocked” by Muganga’s arrest and ordered his immediate release and the dropping of all charges.
“I want to thank each and everyone out there for your peace, your support, your activism,” Muganga said after his release, according to a video posted on Gashumba’s Facebook page.
Some of the organisations ordered to close had taken part in an election monitoring operation on polling day in January which was raided by security forces and during which several of their leaders were arrested.
The hotly disputed poll saw President Yoweri Museveni returned for a sixth term in office after a violent campaign marked by the harassment and arrest of opposition figures, attacks on the media and the deaths of several dozen people.
Chapter Four executive director Nicholas Opiyo denied any unlawful conduct by his group and said the government action was part of a “wider crackdown” on civil society.
“This is but a continuation of the restricting of civic space in Uganda using legal, administrative and physical restraints on organisations across the country,” he told AFP.
Responding to the shutdown, both the European Union Union and the United States issued similar statements underlining the importance of civil society in the country without directly criticising the government’s action.
“We hope any issues with registration of organisations can be resolved promptly so their important work can continue in the spirit of genuine partnership based on mutual accountability,” the US embassy in Uganda said.
The International Commission of Jurists Africa branch said it was “deeply concerned” by the suspension of Chapter Four.
“We encourage the authorities to urgently resolve this situation to enable Chapter Four to commence operations again,” it said on Twitter.
In December 2020 — a month ahead of the election — Ugandan authorities arrested Opiyo for alleged money-laundering.
Opiyo — who has been awarded several prestigious human rights prizes for his activism — spent Christmas in detention at a high security prison before being released on bail a week later.
Despite repeated court appearances since then, the government has not produced any evidence to support its allegations.
A group of 14 major international donors, including the European Union and the United States, had protested at Opiyo’s arrest.
Charity Ahimbisibwe, who leads the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) — another of the shuttered organisations — described the government action as “extremely unfortunate”.
Ahimbisibwe said the move came after the organisation had received repeated summons to government offices since it released a report that had catalogued malpractice during the election.
Ahimbisibwe said the CCEDU’s operating permit had expired but it had asked for an extension because it was not possible to renew it during the long coronavirus lockdown and apparent stalling by local government officials.
“As a law-abiding body we will not continue to operate without the permit,” Ahimbisibwe said.
On Saturday, Museveni had publicly scolded Uganda’s security forces for using excessive violence, as the opposition alleges hundreds of their supporters disappeared or died following the violent election crackdown.
The veteran president, who was re-elected despite widespread reports of irregularities, blamed “indiscipline” and “laziness” among state forces for incidents that resulted in the death of Ugandans.
At least 54 people were shot dead in November while demonstrating over the arrest of Museveni’s main political opponent, the rapper-turned-MP Bobi Wine.
Ugandans began voting in a tense election Thursday under heavy security and an internet blackout as veteran leader Yoweri Museveni pursues a sixth term against a former pop star half his age.
The internet went down on the eve of the vote, with some parts of the country reporting complete disruptions or significant slowdowns, after one of the most violent campaigns in years.
Museveni is seeking a sixth term in office, having ruled for almost four decades, against singer-turned-MP Bobi Wine, 38, whose popularity among a youthful population has rattled the former rebel leader.
In the Kamwokya slum, where Wine grew up and is hugely popular, voters streamed to a polling station as police tried to enforce social distancing after weeks of surging coronavirus cases in the East African nation.
A group of about two dozen riot officers marched past, with heavy military and police presence in other parts of the capital.
“I am here to change the leadership of this nation because for years they’ve been telling me they will secure my future. They have not done that,” said driver Joseph Nsuduga, 30, one of the first in line to vote.
“I need to see change for my children. People are yearning for change but we are seeing nothing.”
Voting was delayed in several locations in the capital Kampala, beginning about half an hour after the official starting time of 7am (0400 GMT). Polls close at 4pm (1200 GMT).
Some 18 million voters are registered for the presidential and parliamentary vote, and results are expected by Saturday.
Museveni has ruled Uganda without pause since seizing control in 1986, when he helped to end years of tyranny under Idi Amin.
Once hailed for his commitment to good governance, the former rebel leader has crushed any opposition and tweaked the constitution to allow himself to run again and again.
The run-up to polling day was marred by a sustained crackdown on Museveni’s rivals and government critics, and unprecedented attacks on the nation’s media and human rights defenders.
In November, at least 54 people were shot dead by security forces loyal to Museveni during protests against one of Wine’s numerous arrests.
On Wednesday armoured-personnel carriers with mounted machine guns patrolled parts of Kampala and army helicopters and surveillance drones flew over the teeming capital where the political opposition has traditionally enjoyed support.
The energetic and often genial Museveni is active on social media such as Twitter — where he released an exercise video to help citizens stay fit during lockdown — and retains support among voters such as Ceria Makumbi, 52.
“He has brought security to our country… He built hospitals, roads and brought Uganda to an international standard,” the businesswoman told AFP.
– Little oversight – The US, EU, UN and global rights and democracy groups have raised concerns about the integrity and transparency of the election.
Only one foreign organisation, the African Union (AU), has sent monitors, along with an AU women’s group.
On Wednesday, the United States, a major aid donor to Uganda, announced it was cancelling a diplomatic observer mission after too many of its staff were denied permission to monitor the election.
In a statement, US ambassador Natalie Brown warned the refusal meant the election “will lack the accountability, transparency and confidence” brought by independent oversight.
On Tuesday, Museveni announced the suspension of social media networks and messaging services like Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp in response to Facebook closing accounts linked to government officials the tech giant said were spreading misinformation.
Wine is the strongest of 10 opposition contenders trying to unseat Museveni.
But most observers expect the ageing president and his ruling National Resistance Movement to emerge victorious.
He has never lost an election, and has been counting down the days to victory in confident campaign advertisements, promising to invest more in infrastructure, health and education and build Uganda’s economy.
But Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has accused the president of presiding over corruption and failing to deliver jobs.
– Generation gap – The population has a median age of just less than 16, and many Ugandans have never known anyone but Museveni in charge.
In Kamwokya Cate Nabbale, 20, a primary school teacher, voted for the first time.
“I am so excited … I want to see Uganda growing, things changing,” she told AFP.
Wine has vowed non-violent street protests should Ugandans feel the election was stolen.
The opposition leader has urged them to turn out in large numbers and vote, saying they should not fear intimidation by the authorities.
Museveni has warned his opponents against taking to the streets.
“If you use violence to protest against an election result, that is treason,” Museveni said in a national address Tuesday.
President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking re-election in Uganda Thursday, took power at the head of a bush army in 1986 and has ruled ever since, making him one of the world’s longest-serving leaders.
Rebel to Ruler
As a young rebel leader, Museveni helps topple dictator Idi Amin in 1979 before retreating to the bush to wage a guerrilla war against his repressive successor, Milton Obote.
Shortly after ousting the government and taking power in 1986, Museveni declares: “The problem of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power.”
Museveni receives early praise for returning some stability and prosperity to Uganda, which after years of coups, violent tyrants and civil war is among the world’s poorest countries.
He is returned to office in 1996 in the country’s first direct presidential election since independence from Britain in 1962.
Darling of the West
Uganda’s economy grows rapidly in the 1990s as Museveni undertakes sweeping reforms, pleasing foreign donors and financial lenders keen to sponsor a burgeoning African success story.
Museveni’s early successes combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic and reducing poverty burnish this image in the West as a modern African leader committed to good governance.
But his moral standing takes a particular hit when Uganda and Rwanda invade Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) twice in the late 1990s. Both armies are later charged in The Hague with looting Congo’s resources, killing and torturing civilians and using child soldiers.
Museveni would also be accused of supporting rebels in the region — an allegation that would resurface time and time again during his long tenure.
In 2001, Museveni defeats his main opposition rival Kizza Besigye at the ballot box, and commits to standing down at the next election.
But instead, he changes the constitution in 2005 to do away with presidential term limits.
The following year — his 20th in power — he defeats a popular Besigye again in a vote marred by violence and irregularities.
That same year, the Lord’s Resistance Army is largely driven out of northern Uganda after a grinding and brutal 20-year insurgency — although Ugandan troops hunt the rebel leadership in Sudan, DRC and Central African Republic for another decade.
Museveni pleases Washington — a close friend which has provided Uganda billions in foreign aid — by sending troops to serve under the US in Iraq and to Somalia, where they form the backbone of an African Union mission to confront the Al-Qaeda linked jihadists Al-Shabaab.
Drift toward autocracy
In 2010 the UN accuses Ugandan troops of war crimes in eastern Congo. Kampala threatens to withdraw its peacekeepers from Somalia, South Sudan, Darfur, Ivory Coast and East Timor — a trump card it would use again in future when accused of further meddling in DRC.
Museveni wins a fourth term in 2011 over Besigye, who again decries the vote as a sham. Not long after, security forces are deployed to violently suppress major street protests as food and fuel prices soar and the economy teeters.
Ugandan troops fight alongside South Sudan’s forces as the new country descends into civil war in 2013. At home, the crackdown on critics intensifies, with radio stations taken off air and newspapers raided for airing suggestions Museveni is grooming his son for succession.
In 2014, Museveni signs a controversial anti-homosexual bill into law, drawing resounding criticism from around the globe, and attracting US sanctions and a freeze on EU donor funds.
– President for life – “I am not power-hungry, but mission-hungry” Museveni said in 2015, describing the economic transformation of Uganda as his only purpose, and vowing to return to cattle-keeping should he lose the election the following year.
But he won that, too, and proceeded in 2017 to change the constitution once more. This time he removed age limits for presidential candidates, clearing his path to run for a sixth term in 2021, aged 76, and reinforcing fears he plans to rule for life.
However, the veteran leader faces an energised campaign by a young opposition upstart called Bobi Wine, a musician-turned-MP who openly calls Museveni a dictator, and blames the endemic corruption under his rule for contributing to Uganda’s high youth unemployment and bleak economic outlook.
Museveni, whose increasingly violent reprisals against Wine have drawn global condemnation, has accused outsiders and “homosexuals” of backing the neophyte opposition leader, and is expected to win the January 14 vote that observers say will be neither free nor fair.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, began an African tour on Monday, attending a memorial service at Entebbe Airport in Uganda where his commando brother was killed rescuing hostages 40 years ago – an event which he has said shaped his future.
Lt. Col Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu led an assault team of 29 commandos who stormed the terminal in 1976 to rescue Israelis and others who had been on board an Air France flight diverted to Uganda by Palestinian and German hijackers.
“I am touched to stand in this place, this very place, where my brother, Yoni, fell,” the Prime Minister said at Entebbe Airport. “Entebbe is always with me, in my thoughts, in my consciousness, deep in my heart.”
The old building where the hostages were held still stands, but a new terminal now serves the airport at Entebbe, which lies a few miles from the capital Kampala.
Some former Israeli commandos involved in the raid also attended the ceremony.
The Prime Minister’s elder brother was the only Israeli soldier killed in the 1976 raid. The hijackers, three hostages and dozens of Ugandan soldiers died.
More than 100 mostly Israeli hostages were freed. Ugandan autocrat Idi Amin, in power at that time, broke ties with Israel after the raid.
“My brother’s death changed my life and directed it to its present course,” he said in an interview with Newsweek in 2012.
Speaking on Monday before talks with President Yoweri Museveni, Netanyahu said, “Exactly 40 years ago, Israel soldiers carried out a historic mission in Entebbe.
“Forty years ago they landed in the dead of the night in a country led by a brutal dictator. Today we landed in broad day light in a friendly country led by a president who fights terrorists.”
Uganda has been targeted by Somali Islamist group, al Shabaab, which has said it wants to drive out Ugandan and other soldiers fighting with an African Union peace force in Somalia.
Netanyahu was accompanied by an 80-strong delegation of Israeli business executives from more than 50 companies.
After talks with Museveni, he was to attend a summit with leaders from Rwanda, Kenya, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Zambia.
“Africa is a continent on the rise. Israel looks forward to strengthening ties with all its countries,” he said.
After Uganda, the Israeli Prime Minister travels to Kenya where Israel provides training for the security forces and has other investments.
“Israel is a critical partner to Kenya, with its development assistance in security and defense, agriculture and particularly irrigation are important investments here,” Kenyan presidential spokesman, Manoah said ahead of the visit.
The tour will also take Netanyahu to Rwanda and Ethiopia.