Filmmaker's arrest signals limits to Uganda coverage

Regulation & Policy

Taylor Krauss, an American journalist, freelance filmmaker, and founder of the testimonial website Voices of Rwanda, traveled to Uganda roughly two weeks ago to conduct some filming in hopes of pitching footage later to various media outlets. Krauss is no stranger to the region; he has been traveling back and forth to the country for nine years. But now that he has been arrested, held for three days without charge, had his equipment confiscated, and finally forced out of the country, this probably marks his last visit. It probably also marks bad news for the press in Uganda.

On July 23, Krauss filmed opposition leader Kizza Besigye being acquitted of charges of incitement to violence in a courthouse in the capital, Kampala. Besigye, who has been arrested 34 times in the past five years, is accustomed to drawing such charges whether he is leading a political rally or simply walking down the street; his house is consistently surrounded by police and movements routinely checked. As he drove to the courthouse, supporters and onlookers began gathering around Besigye, Krauss told me: "First a few and then hundreds, and then hundreds more." While the crowd was peaceful, jittery police started beating people with batons and firing teargas to disperse them. "In many ways it was the police who escalated things by closing down the road--it was not a political rally, Besigye had not organized anything," Krauss said.

Since general elections in 2006, President Yoweri Museveni and his ruling party have faced mounting criticism and civil unrest over corruption and rising prices of basic commodities. Local journalists and news reports say the police have responded with increasingly harsh measures such as cracking down on protests, raiding activists' homes, and even restricting the movement of Kampala's mayor, an opposition politician. The next elections are scheduled in 2016.

As Krauss filmed the police last week, police grabbed him, took his equipment, deleted his footage, and sprained his hand as they pulled him into Central Police Station for interrogation, he said. Over the next three days, Krauss was held without charge--even though it is illegal to detain someone without charge in Uganda for more than 48 hours--and repeatedly interrogated at Jinja Road Police Station, he said. On the third day, police ransacked his hotel room searching for anything incriminating, even tearing the lining of his suitcase, Krauss found out once finally released.

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