THE Ugandan authorities should immediately release freelance journalist Andrew Arinaitwe and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Friday.
On Sunday, March 5, authorities arrested Arinaitwe while he was reporting at a boarding school in the central district of Wakiso, according to a statement shared with CPJ by Kiiza & Mugisha Advocates, a law firm representing the journalist, and tweets from the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, a local press rights organization. Arinaitwe was on assignment with the weekly publication The Continent, which is distributed via messaging apps including WhatsApp, according to those sources and the outlet’s news editor, Lydia Namubiru, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Authorities held Arinaitwe until Monday, when he was released on bail, according to those sources and a police document reviewed by CPJ.
On Thursday, authorities formally charged Arinaitwe with criminal trespass with the intent to steal, detained him, and adjourned his case until March 14, according to his lawyers’ statement, Namubiru, and Culton Scovia Nakamya, a journalist who observed the court proceedings and spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
“Ugandan journalist Andrew Arinaitwe’s ongoing detention and prosecution raises serious questions about the lengths authorities will go to restrict coverage of sensitive topics,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Arinaitwe should be released immediately, all charges against him must be dropped, and he should be allowed to continue his reporting without undue interference or further intimidation.”
At the time of his arrest, Arinaitwe was reporting on allegations sexual abuse by teachers in Ugandan boarding schools, including at Kings College Budo, and had gone to the institution to seek comment from its principal after failing to reach him on the phone, according to his lawyers’ statement and Namubiru.
Arinaitwe entered the school without being stopped or questioned by a security guard at its gate, but then the principal, John Fred Kazibwe, accused the journalist of illegally accessing the institution and reported him to military officers who were on the campus, who in turn handed him over to the police, Namubiru told CPJ.
In a statement sent to CPJ via messaging app, Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango, in whose jurisdiction Wakiso district falls, accused Arinaitwe of failing to use “normal procedures” to access the school and of “sneak[ing] into the college” to improperly interview students.
Before releasing him on bail Monday, police confiscated Arinaitwe’s phone and laptop, according to Namubiru and the lawyers’ statement.
At the Nsangi Magistrates Court on Thursday, authorities formally charged Arinaitwe and then adjourned the hearing after state prosecutors argued that they needed time to verify the addresses of his sureties, persons who guarantee that he will abide by bail orders, according to those sources and Nakamya.
Under Uganda’s penal code, criminal trespass is a misdemeanor that carries a prison term of one year upon conviction.
Contacted via messaging app, Kazibwe told CPJ that he could not comment while the case was before the court.
Uganda’s national police spokesperson, Fred Enanga, did not respond to queries sent by CPJ via messaging app.