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Arrested Ugandan journalist denies sedition charge

8/16/2005 5:11am

KAMPALA, Uganda, Aug 15, 2005 (AP) — A Ugandan journalist pleaded not guilty Monday to a sedition charge stemming from his remarks that government incompetence led to the death of southern Sudanese leader John Garang, who was killed in the crash of a Ugandan presidential helicopter.
Authorities shut down K FM radio station Thursday after Mwenda made the remark about government incompetence on a talk show on the station.

"I was exercising my right of freedom of speech, which is guaranteed by the constitution of Uganda," Mwenda told the Nakawa Magistrate Court when he was told to enter a plea on the sedition charge Monday. "I cannot plead guilty of exercising my freedom of speech."

Chief Magistrate Deo Nizeyimana released Mwenda on a 500,000 shillings ($1=UGS1,797.95) bail. Conviction for sedition carried a maximum penalty of five years in jail.

Garang died when Uganda’s presidential helicopter crashed while flying him back to southern Sudan after talks with Museveni on July 30.

Preliminary investigations showed the helicopter was flying in bad weather -with clouds hanging 120-150 meters above the ground - when it slammed onto a hilltop in southern Sudan, people who visited the crash site said.

The helicopter’s sleds apparently bounced off the peak and then hit a second peak before overturning and bursting into flames as fuel spilled onto occupants. Garang’s wallet, identification papers and other personal documents were found intact near the crash site, the officials said.

Initial assessment showed that the pilots were probably flying at low altitude, perhaps to navigate without instruments in a southeastern corner of Sudan, people who assessed the crash site said.

"And what caused Garang’s death? Garang’s security was put in danger by your own government putting him, first of all, on a junk helicopter; second, at night; third, passing through Imatong Hills where (Uganda’s elusive rebel Joseph) Kony is," Mwenda was quoted in the charge sheet read in court by Abodo.

Conrad Nkutu, the Monitor Publications’ managing director, said that the company has received assurances the radio station will be reopened.

Officials will, however, approach the Constitutional Court to challenge the law under which the Mwenda has been charged.

"There is no need to criminalize the work of journalists," Nkutu said.

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