Ugandan journalists arrested over president cartoon

KAMPALA Wed Jan 12, 2011 9:26pm IST

Uganda's President and the leader of ruling National Resistance Movement party Yoweri Museveni attends a ceremony for his nomination as a presidential candidate at Mandela National Stadium in the capital Kampala October 25, 2010. REUTERS/James Akena/Files

Uganda's President and the leader of ruling National Resistance Movement party Yoweri Museveni attends a ceremony for his nomination as a presidential candidate at Mandela National Stadium in the capital Kampala October 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/James Akena/Files

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KAMPALA (Reuters) - Two Ugandan journalists have been arrested over a cartoon of President Yoweri Museveni on the cover of their magazine which referred to his 24 years in power and asked "Where next?", their lawyer said on Wednesday.

Samuel Ssejaaka, owner of Summit Business Review, and its editor, Mustapha Mugisha, were arrested on Tuesday and questioned by detectives before being released on police bond, pending possible unspecified charges.

"I am at a loss as to what the charges would be because I'm aware of what criminal charges can usually be applied to the media," lawyer James Nangwala told Reuters.

"The cartoon looked very plain and very innocent."

Police were not immediately available for comment.

The cartoon depicted Museveni holding a large knife and about to cut a cake on which was written: "48th Independence," referring to the anniversary of the East African nation winning independence from Britain.

The accompanying headline read: "Uganda at 48. Museveni at 24. Where next?"

Ugandans vote on February 18 in national elections that will be closely watched for signs of repression and instability by Western donors and foreign investors.

Uganda's constitutional court removed the crime of sedition from the penal code in August, ruling that it limited fundamental freedoms of speech and expression.

That colonial era law had been used to try several prominent critics of Museveni for bringing the presidency into disrepute.

Nangwala said banner advertisements for the magazine around capital Kampala, featuring the same image, had also been cited to him as a reason why the two men had been arrested.

"A police officer unwrapped a banner advertisement and showed it to all of us as justification for them being in custody," Nangwala said. The advertisements have now disappeared from downtown Kampala.

Museveni, a former student activist, has been in power since 1986, during which time Uganda's economy -- the third largest in east Africa -- has expanded and the discovery of oil has boosted foreign investor interest.

But rights activists say the former darling of the West is now trying to silence critics and clampdown on opposition in an attempt to become president for life.

The country's last elections in 2006 were marred by violence.

Most analysts expect Museveni to be returned to office. The government says that is because of his development achievements while the opposition says it does not expect a fair poll and will pull out if it suspects vote rigging.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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