Kampala – Ugandan author and activist Norman Tumuhimbise and a female journalist have been charged with cyber-stalking the country’s president, their lawyer told AFP on Thursday, the second writer to be arrested by the authorities recently.
Tumuhimbise, who heads local pressure group The Alternative Movement and an online media platform Alternative Digitalk TV, was due to launch a book critical of President Yoweri Museveni on March 30.
The 36-year-old was among nine journalists arrested for offensive communication a week ago. Seven were released without being charged, his lawyer Eron Kiiza said.
“Norman Tumuhimbise and his colleague, Farida Bikobere, who works with him at Digitalk TV, were charged with cyber-stalking the president,” Kiiza told AFP.
Following Wednesday’s hearing, “The two denied the charges and were remanded to Luzira prison until March 21,” he said, referring to a maximum-security facility in the capital Kampala.
“Both were tortured like the other journalists with whom they were arrested.”
According to court documents seen by AFP, prosecutors allege Tumuhimbise and Bikobere used their online platform to relay “offensive communication… directed against the person of the President of Uganda”.
Tumuhimbise and his colleagues were reportedly bundled into a van by armed security personnel last week, with Kiiza alleging that police also confiscated phones, laptops, recorders and cameras from the media outlet.
Tumuhimbise is the second writer to be charged with offensive communication in recent months.
Award-winning Ugandan author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija fled to Germany last month to seek medical treatment after allegedly having been tortured following his detention on charges of insulting Museveni and his son.
Rukirabashaija’s arrest had raised international concern, with both the European Union and the United States calling for his release.
The charges against Rukirabashaija related to unflattering comments on Twitter about Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, and his powerful son Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
In one post he described Kainerugaba, a general who many Ugandans believe is positioning himself to take over from his 77-year-old father, as “obese” and a “curmudgeon”.
Uganda has witnessed a series of crackdowns aimed at stamping out dissent, with journalists attacked, lawyers jailed, election monitors prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled.
If convicted, Tumuhimbise and Bikobere risk a year in jail and/or a fine, under the computer misuse act.