Uganda jockeying to keep its press freedom

Uganda is having trouble over freedom of the press. Already there have been repressive actions against some newspapers, including the detention of one editor and banning of three independent local journals.

The papers had reported on the crimes of Tanzanian soldiers, now on garrison duty in Uganda -- a very sensitive subject.

Now Uganda's President Godfrey Binaisa has stepped in on behalf of the press -- and the result has been the ouster of Minister of Internal Affairs Paul Muwanga.

Mr. Muwanga was the minister responsible for the anti-press operations that caused a storm of anger in the capital of Kampala.

Ironically, the Uganda government is working on a measure that will provide the country with a unique human-rights court system. The aim of these courts will be to try officials and supporters of the regime of former President Idi Amin.

The anti-press campaign started with the arrest and detention a few weeks ago of Ben Bella Ilakut, editor of the government-owned Uganda Times. His paper had printed the story of an incident in which Tanzanian soldiers killed a number of villagers after the killing of three soldiers during a riot caused by Tanzanians stealing beer from a bar. The government is extremely reluctant to allow reports of Tanzanian misconduct to be publicized.

Mr. Muwanga ordered the detention of Mr. Ilakut, who seems to have been kept in jail in spite of an order by President Binaisa releasing him.

Three other Uganda papers, the Citizen, the Economy, and a vernacular paper, Ngabo, also carried stories and comment about the Tanzanian Army incident. The editor of Economy, Roland Kakoza, was taken for interrogation but later released.

President Banaisa has ordered the immediate release of Mr. Ilakut, Mr. Muwanga has been appointed Uganda's representative at the United Nations and his place has been taken by Dr. B. Kinunka, minister of state in the President's office.

It seems clear that the President is trying to reverse the recent concern over the government's attitude to a free press in Uganda. Recently, Minister of Information Picho Owiny, himself a journalist, assured Ugandan journalists that they could enjoy freedom of expression in their work so long as what they reported was in the interests of Uganda.

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