Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that TV reporter Gertrude Uwitware was kidnapped andbeaten during the weekend over her coverage of a dispute between well-known university academic Stella Nyanzi and Janet Museveni, who is Uganda’s minister of education and President Yoweri Museveni’s wife.
Gertrude Uwitware, who covers health issues for Nation Television (NTV), Uganda’s leading privately-owned TV channel, was walking along one of Kampala’s safest and most touristic avenues on the afternoon of 8 April, when a man and a woman forced her to get into their car at gunpoint.
After gagging her, they drove her to an isolated spot several kilometres outside the city, where they shaved her head, beat her and threatened to torture her.
Referring to a blog post in which she defended Nyanzi, who accused the First Lady of not keeping an election promise to provide free sanitary pads in schools, they ordered her to stop harassing the president’s family and made her delete all of her Twitter and Facebook posts deemed too critical.
They told her they were sparing her life only because she was “one of ours” (meaning a member of President Museveni’s ethnic group) and that they would otherwise have cut her head off. They finally dumped her at an isolated location where police found here at around midnight.
Uwitware had already received threats two weeks ago on her Facebook page from a person using the pseudonym of Ugaba Tindewyebwa, who ordered her to support the president’s family.
“The acts of violence and intimidation against journalists in Uganda must stop and, in this particular case, the president must send a clear message to his supporters to end the harassment,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.“We note that several persons were convicted last month of physical attacks on journalists and that the police were very quick to search for Gertrude Uwitware. We call on the police and judicial authorities to be equally quick in identifying Uwitware’s two abductors and bringing them to justice.”
Maurice Mugisha, the head of NTV, has called for a rapid and comprehensive police investigation into the abduction, which has come at a time when journalists are often the targets of threats and harassment and media outlets are being gagged with impunity.
Nyanzi was meanwhile arrested on 7 April on a charge of online harassment and insults under a 2011 law on “misuse” of the Internet, and was due to appear before a judge today. She is accused of referring offensively to Janet Museveni in her Facebook post about the broken presidential campaign promise.
Uganda is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.