Police to question Daily Monitor, Red Pepper over presidential age limit stories

The Uganda police Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) has summoned editors of two dailies, Red Pepper and Daily Monitor over stories published this week about the presidential age limit.

The 10 October summons stem from a complaint raised by Mr Raphael Magyezi, the Igara West Member of Parliament, who claims that the news reports were intended to tarnish his name. Magyezi tabled a private member’s bill in parliament that seeks, among other things, to remove the presidential age limit as spelled out in Article 102 of the Constitution of Uganda.

“Inquiries are being conducted under the above quoted reference whereby you allegedly published an article titled ‘MP Magezi (sic) bags shs 600m for age limit removal’ in the Red Pepper issue of 11 October, 17,” reads the summons.

CID spokesperson Mr Vincent Ssekate says the MP denies receiving any money to consult the public about his bill.

“He said the stories are intended to malign him,” Ssekate tells ACME.

Mr Bob Tumwesigye, the editor of Red Pepper, says his paper stands by its story.

“They are trying to stop us from writing stories about the age limit. I don’t think there is anything big apart from that. They are trying to scare us from writing the stories,” he says.

The Daily Monitor summons bears similar language as that sent to Red Pepper. It refers to an article published on 12 October titled: ‘Age limit budget for 23-man team leaks’. The article contained details of a draft budget of the legal and parliamentary affairs committee that showed the MPs would spend Shs700 million on 10 days of public consultations on the constitutional amendment.

Mr Charles Odoobo Bichachi the Executive Editor of Daily Monitor says they are curious to find out what issues in the story prompted the summons and the CID investigation. Several MPs and the parliamentary spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the draft budget for public consultations.

Bichachi is concerned that the police investigation is intended to deter the media from reporting on the presidential age limit debate.

“The matter of Article 102 touches every Ugandan. It is a story that we have made a decision to cover in its entirety and what the summons mean is that somebody is certainly uncomfortable with this story being told,” Bichachi says.

He adds: “It is strange that the matter of changing the constitution should be hushed up.”

The editors of both newspapers are required to report to the Director for Criminal Investigations on Monday 16 October.

The debate over the presidential age limit has so far caused fist fights on the floor of Parliament, angry verbal exchanges in the House and in the media, and several arrests of opposition MPs and journalists covering the events.

Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda reports that two television journalists were assaulted and their gadgets confiscated on 13 September while they covered an anti-age limit rally organised by the Democratic Part in Entebbe.  On 20 September police arrested and detained five journalists who were covering a press conference organised by youth to protest the age limit removal. They were released without charge.

Mr Robert Ssempala, National Coordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists says the summonses from police are meant to entrench fear in media houses and journalists that cover critical issues.

“As the media we have to stand firm and defend ourselves. They are not going to stop,” he states.

Ssempala says said that police summons and notices from the Uganda Communications Commission have become the two main tools used to silence the media.  Last month the Commission temporarily banned live television coverage of parliamentary proceeding after MPs brawled just before the age limit bill was tabled.

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UPDATE:  On Monday, October 16 Daily Monitor’s Executive Editor, Charles Odoobo Bichachi and Red Pepper’s Deputy News Editor Kintu Richard were charged with libel and offensive communication after appearing before CID.

The two were questioned for hours before being charged and released on bond.  According to a Daily Monitor article, Mr Ssekate said the offences against the editors were, for now, holding charges that could be amended later depending on the outcome of the investigations.  The editors are expected to report to CID again on Wednesday, October 18.

About Grace Natabaalo

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

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