The year began in the worst fashion with the death in mid-January of journalism student Jimmy Higenyi, the first reporter to be killed in the world in 2002. The national assembly passed a new anti-terrorism law in March which had worrying implications for freedom of expression. Some local journalists thought that it would encourage self-censorship and generally discourage the public from giving information to the press.
The Monitor, the country’s only independent daily newspaper, was the regime’s leading target. Its articles, sometime very critical of the authorities, were a source of the utmost irritation to the civilian and military leaders. The police did not hesitate to block off access to the newspaper’s offices to prevent it from appearing for a week.
President Yoweri Museveni, who usually had little to say about the state of the press in Uganda, threatened in November to close any radio station that gave the exiled opposition an opportunity to speak on the air.
The rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who were fighting the government forces in the north, also threatened the press, refusing to tolerate any reporting of abuses and human rights violations by rebel troops.
A journalist murdered
Jimmy Higenyi, a journalism student at the United Media Consultants and Trainers (UMCAT) school, was fatally shot in the back by police in Kampala on 12 January while covering an opposition demonstration as a course assignment. Overwhelmed by the size of the turnout, the police had opened fire in order to disperse the crowd. Organised by the opposition Ugandan People’s Congress (UPC), the march was banned by police under article 269 of the constitution forbidding political activity. It was the first time Higenyi had done field reporting as a journalist. At least three other reporters - Archie Luyimbazi and Andrew Mujema of the television channel WBS and James Akena of the daily New Vision - and several UPC leaders were detained for several hours by police. The police inspector-general, Maj. Gen. Katumba Wamala, announced a few days later that a ranking police officer and two other policemen had been arrested in connection with the death of Higenyi. "The police assume full responsibility," he said at a press conference.
Two journalists arrested
Father Giulio Albanese, director of the Italian missionary news agency MISNA, travelled to the northern Kitgum region on 28 August 2002 to interview the LRA rebels about a possible ceasefire with the government. Although the army had approved this meeting, military personnel followed Albanese and the two other priests accompanying him and used their rendez-vous to launch a surprise attack on the rebels. Albanese and his two companions were arrested by the military and taken to Kitgum barracks, where they were accused the next day of supplying medicine to the rebels. They were released later that day. "They treated us like animals," one of Albanese’s companions said.
Police raided The Monitor, the country’s only independent daily newspaper, without a warrant on 10 October, searching its offices, seizing equipment and posting units outside that barred access, thereby preventing the newspaper from appearing for a week. The raid was prompted by a report in that day’s edition that rebels had brought down an army helicopter in the north. The journalist who wrote the report, Frank Nyakairu, was arrested by soldiers the next day in the northern town of Gulu. Managing editor Charles Onyango Obbo and news editor Wanyama Wangah appeared in court on 16 November on charges of publishing false news prejudicial to national security. They pleaded not guilty and were released on bail of 1.5 million shillings (820 euros). After being brought to Kampala, Nyakairu appeared in court the following day and was released a few hours later on bail of 2.5 million shillings (1,360 euros). Thereafter, the police blockade was lifted, much of the confiscated equipment was returned, and the newspaper was able to reappear on 18 October. Information minister Basoga Nsadhu urged The Monitor’s journalists to respect press ethics and Uganda’s laws. A month later, a presidential advisor on media matters called for harsher measures against journalists who encourage terrorism and said he had no reason to apologise to The Monitor.
Two journalists physically attacked
Matthias Mugisha, a photographer with the pro-government newspaper New Vision, was beaten by the commander of the military police, Maj. Dick Bugingo, and his camera was destroyed while he was covering training exercises in Kampala on 30 January 2002. Bugingo also ordered a bodyguard to hit another New Vision journalist, Grace Matsiko, when she objected to the attack on Mugisha.
A journalist threatened
At the end of July, LRA rebels threatened to kill Els de Temmerman, a Belgian who used to report for the radio station VRT. A letter from LRA chief Joseph Kony calling for her to be killed was found on a rebel who had been captured by soldiers. The threat was prompted by the publication of a book by De Temmerman entitled "Aboke Girls" about the ill-treatment of "kadogo" teenagers who are press-ganged into Kony’s rebel army.
Pressure and obstruction
The national assembly passed a new anti-terrorism bill on 20 March 2002 providing for sentences of up to 10 years in prison for publishing news "likely to promote terrorism." Signed into law a few weeks later by President Museveni, it also established the death penalty for acts of terrorism or financial support for terrorist organisations. The authorities said Uganda was just implementing UN Security Council resolution 1373 on terrorism. But The Monitor said it would "bury the truth" because journalists would no longer be able to report clashes between government forces and rebel groups without risking a prison sentence. Also, by discouraging the victims or witnesses of clashes from talking, it weaken the depth and quality of news reporting in Uganda, the newspaper said.
The Monitor journalists Joseph Were and David Kibirige were summoned by the police criminal investigations department on 26 July and questioned about an article reporting Rwandan allegations that Uganda had military bases in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo for training the Rwandan opposition to fight its government. The journalists were free to go after interrogation.
The government said it wanted to ban radio stations from interviewing members of the public in mid-August after impassioned criticism of the authorities were voiced on the air by people interviewed on the street.
LRA rebels attacked and burned down the Catholic radio station Radio Wa on 27 September. Witnesses said about 20 rebels used axes to break into the station and set off grenades inside, starting a fire that gutted the building. About a dozen soldiers guarding the station fled as the rebels arrived. Soldiers had recently posted around Radio Wa in response to its request to the government for protection.