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Uganda journalist told to pay fine or face jail

October 17, 2014

A Ugandan journalist was fined and ordered to pay damages or face jail Friday after he accused a government official of corruption, a case that has raised concern among rights groups.

Ronald Ssembuusi, 25, a correspondent for Central Broadcasting Service (CBS), was found guilty on October 3 after a three-year trial. On Friday he was ordered to pay fines and damages totalling a million Ugandan shillings (374 dollars, 292 euros) or serve a year in jail.

His conviction for defamation relates to a 2011 report that alleged a local government official stole solar panels donated by the African Development Bank.

Rights groups said the crime of criminal defamation was worrying.

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda said it was a “sad day” for press freedom in the east African country, adding the law was like “a shield for leaders to avoid being criticised.”

The law means journalists fear critical reporting, the group’s coordinator Robert Sempala said.

“The media has been crippled in playing its watchdog role over society and public leaders,” he said.

Reporters Without Borders said the case had “revived concern about media freedom in Uganda”.

The reporter is in poor health, and did not attend court having just been released from hospital after collapsing earlier this month. He has appealed the conviction.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.