NBS TV journalist Solomon Serwanja, his wife Vivian, two BBC journalists, their fixer and driver were released on police bond on February 8, two days after an arrest while they were in the middle of an investigation into cartels dealing illegally in government drugs.
Serwanja said there are individuals who are selling government supplied drugs illegally,
hence their investigation into cartels. Image: Uganda Watchdog
The two BBC journalists are Godfrey Badebye, Kassim Mohamad and were detained along with fixer Rashid Kawesa and driver Shafiq Kisaame. Vivian Serwanja is the Public Relations Officer for the Ministry of Health in Uganda.
Serwanja handed himself over to the Kampala Central Police Station on February 8. The five made statements and are report to the police on March 12.
In a statement after his release Serwanja said unlike some in Ugandan cities who have healthcare insurance, people in rural areas struggled to get medication. He said many are forced to walk kilometres to access medication at health facilities only to be told there are no drugs.
“The case is that they found us in possession of government drugs. This is because we were working on an investigation that is supposed to expose the cartels behind the stealing of government drugs and it is in the public interest,” Serwanja said.
Serwanja explained why the charges and arrests were uncalled for.
“As the fourth estate it is our right. It is our job to do this. All we need is support. I don’t think we have to necessarily inform the police because we are an independent body and we have to act independently. We have to do our job because we have a role to play and we have a society to protect.
Police Spokesperson Fred Enanga said they are working with the office of the director of public prosecutions for legal guidance. This is for them to ascertain whether the five journalists breached any rules on the acquisition of government drugs and safety considerations.
Police first pounced on the two BBC journalists, and their driver Shafiq Shafiq Kisame. They then later stormed Solomon Serwanja’s home and arrested his wife.
The Kampala Area police spokesperson Patrick Onyango said an operation was carried out after receiving a tip about a group buying government drugs illegally.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of Uganda said in a statement the four were not immediately taken to a gazetted place of detention before they were later taken to Kampala’s Central Police Station.
The association urged Ugandan authorities not to criminalise journalism as it is a vital part of a free society.