Newspapers remain closed as police ignore court order, arrest activists

Despite mounting condemnation, police on Thursday evening arrested five of several protestors who marched to the Daily Monitor offices in Kampala protesting the newspaper’s continued closure as security agents search for documents written by a senior military officer regarding presidential succession.

Riot police, backed up by a water cannon, deployed as soon as the protestors from various civil society organisations approached the paper’s offices on the 8th Street carrying a wooden pole symbolising a non-functional pen.
The activists were particularly galled that the police had ignored a court order directing them to leave the Daily Monitor premises for overstepping the search mandate that the same court had earlier allowed them.
Thursday was day four since police raided and shut down the Daily Monitor and its sister radio stations, Dembe and KFM.
Also shutdown on Monday, May 20, was the Red Pepper tabloid, located about 10km away.
The trouble stems from a leaked letter published on May 7 in the Daily Monitor.
Written by Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza, the letter asks one of his subordinates to investigate claims that an assassination plot is afoot targeting senior government and military officials opposed to an alleged plan to have the president’s son succeed him in State House.
Gen. Sejusa, who is away in Europe and has been giving different days for his return, has since written other letters/releases, which the Red Pepper has carried, and which the police want plus the source.
In his initial letter, Gen. Sejusa, the co-ordinator of intelligence services, claims those to be framed and eliminated for their perceived opposition to the ‘Muhoozi Project’ are Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Chief of Defence Forces Aronda Nyakairima and the general himself.
President Museveni’s son, a commander of the elite Special Forces, is Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
From the Daily Monitor, the police want the original letter and the name of the source who passed it on to the paper’s journalists.
Instead of conducting a non-intrusive search at the Daily Monitor, the police interpreted its warrant, issued by a magistrate’s court, a little too broadly.
They switched off the newspaper’s press, and the paper’s affiliate radio stations, which had nothing to do with the letter except that they share an office block with the paper. Since the premises were a scene of crime to be shut off for the search, the stations became collateral damage.
Management of Monitor Publications, owners of both the newspaper and the stations, was livid.
On Wednesday afternoon, it secured a court order from the same court that issued the search warrant to have police out of the Monitor premises. The police, however, said they had not received the order by Thursday evening.
Thumbing their noses at the whole court process, the police completely sealed off Monitor newspaper offices at 11 a.m. and beefed up personnel.
“Upon reading and considering the application for vacating the Search Warrant issued to D/ASP Mbonimpa Emmanuel on 20th May 2013 and upon reading the Affidavit of Mr Alex Asiimwe, the Managing Director of Monitor Publications Ltd dated 22nd May 2013, it is hereby ordered that;
“The search warrant… is hereby vacated in the exercise of the powers given to the Court under S. 11 (2) of the MCA, having been satisfied that in the process of execution of the said warrant the mandate given by the warrant was overstepped.”
Using social media, the police laboured to explain why they had not received the order by Thursday evening, more than 24 hours after it was issued.
“We have not received the Court Order that Monitor claims to have,” reads a statement on the force’s Faceebook account. “All Court Orders are supposed to be served to our head of legal department or his assistant. The two officers have been in Parliament discussing amendments on the Public Order Management Bill, as directed by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, yesterday.”
The police said, in any case, the search would continue until they found what the sought.
Ms Ann Abeja-Muhwezi, the company secretary, accused the police of dodging the court order.
The 8th Street, in the old industrial area of the city, remained closed for most of the day as police tightly guarded the deserted premises, and diverted traffic.
At the Red Pepper, the search continued as well. Meanwhile its management petitioned court against the closure.
“We would like to inform our esteemed readers, advertisers and friends that we are doing everything humanly possible to comply with lawful court orders and request that you remain calm as we invoke the law to force the Uganda Police to allow us our right to trade,” a statement from Red Pepper read.
“Red Pepper Siege Day 4: the search at office ends for the day. They’ve taken away only 3 computers. They say they’ll return 2moro,” tweeted Mr Patrick Mugumya, who is a senior Pepper official.
Pepper Publications also publishes Kamunye, Hello and Entatsi newspapers. They are all presently out of circulation because of the continuing search.
The Red Pepper did promptly hand over copies of subsequent letters they carried from Gen. Sejua’s lawyer. That act of co-operation has not brought the Pepper any relief thus far.

More condemnation of the raid
From Britain’s House of Lords came unsparing condemnation of the raid yet by the international community.
“… I could also mention the apparent integrity of President Museveni of Uganda, whom we have all admired,” said the Earl of Sandwich. “This week, he decided to close down the highly respected Daily Monitor and two radio stations simply because they reported disaffection among the generals about his son’s possible succession in three years’ time. When you are high and mighty in Africa, you get away with a lot.”
The US Mission in Kampala, Human Rights Watch, Uganda Human Rights Commission and several other local and international entities have criticised the state’s actions.
Members who call themselves friends of the media in the Ugandan parliament moved a motion seeking a parliamentary order reopening the closed media outlets. The motion failed.
“It’s the decision of the court; we [parliament] don’t want to interfere with the police investigations. That motion will bring parliament into disrepute,” Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah told the MPs.
The Uganda Law Society said in a statement that the police conduct was a “serious abuse of the court process … and [an] inexcusable affront on the rights of the media in Uganda”.
Signed society president Ruth Sebatindira, the statement added: “In a free and democratic society, it cannot be reasonable conduct to put hundreds of people out of work for an unknown duration without legal authorisation simply on account of the search for a letter.”
The European Union delegation in Uganda said it was “deeply concerned about respect for freedom of expression and freedom of the press”.
The government has closed down the Daily Monitor and KFM separately for several days in the last decade.

Grace Natabaalo

Grace Natabaalo is a programme assistant at the African Centre for Media Excellence.

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