Police is still holding five directors and three editors of Red Pepper in regard to a story published in the newspaper’s 20 November 2017 edition titled, “M7 plotting to overthrow Kagame – Rwanda”.
Those detained include directors Richard Tusiime, Patrick Mugumya, Arinaitwe Rugyendo, James Mujuni and Johnson Musinguzi Byarabaha and Ben Byarabaha (managing editor), Richard Kintu (news editor) and Tumusiime Francis Tinywana (general manager and Bwino newspaper editor).
On 21 November, police operatives, in possession of a search warrant issued by the Chief Magistrates Court of Kampala at Buganda Road, raided and sealed off the tabloid’s offices in Namanve, confiscating phones, laptops and other gadgets belonging to staff.
According to the search warrant, laptops, desktops, CPUs computer accessories, and any other document related to Red Pepper newspaper publication Vol 17. No 154 of Monday 20 November, 2017 were to be searched.
The directors and editors where then whisked away to Nalufenya Detention Centre in Jinja while other staff present at the premises during the raid had their phones confiscated by police and ordered to vacate the premises.
Police say the investigations are premised on Section 37 of the Penal Code Act. Section 37 (1) of the Penal Code Act (Cap.120), states that a person who publishes or causes to be published in a book, newspaper, magazine, article or any other printed matter, information regarding military operations, strategies, troop location or movement, location of military supplies or equipment of the armed forces or of the enemy, which publication is likely to— (a) endanger the safety of any military installations, equipment or supplies or of the members of the armed forces of Uganda; (b) assist the enemy in its operations; or (c) disrupt public order and security, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.
Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima said: ‘The contents of that story amount to information that is prejudicial to security. The search is to try and find any information relating to what was published in that story. We are also looking for any links to other suspected crimes.”
On whether such actions by security agents are not simply to gag and abuse media rights, Mr Kayima insists police is only doing their job.
“We all have rights, everyone’s inherent rights are to be protected specifically by the police and especially when someone oversteps their rights. Our operations are guided by the law.”
Mr Kayima said it was impossible to tell when the investigations will end or when the publication can resume operations but added that the detained staff have so far been cooperative with the officers on ground.
Dickens Byamukama, a member of the tabloid’s legal team said on the day of the raid, the directors had a meeting with the Minister for Internal Affairs, Gen. Jeje Odongo, to discuss the story in question.
The meeting was intent on finding a way forward on how to harmonise the tabloid’s relationship with government and how to put national interests first. After a meeting that seemingly went well, he was surprised when later that day, the siege and subsequent arrests followed.
Mr Byamukama says Red Pepper stands by the story.
According to Mr Stuart Yiga, a Red Pepper reporter, his arrested colleagues were returned to the premises more than once for further searches. “On Wednesday, police took them back to office and searched their cars and also confiscated hard discs from the editors’ computers and then drove them back to Nalufenya at about 8pm.”
On Thursday, the suspects were again returned for more searches at the premises.
Mr Yiga, who left the premises on Tuesday just in time to escape the siege, says the raid does not come as a surprise, saying it is becoming increasingly difficult to report on crime and security related stories in the country.
By Thursday, the editors and directors had not yet been charged according to Mr Byamukama.
“…we are waiting to see what happens next. They might be taken to court and charged and then we can see how to process bail.”
The detained are likely to be charged with treason, offensive communication and publishing a story that is prejudicial to the security of the country.
The coordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda, Mr Robert Ssempala, in a statement said the siege is economic sabotage aimed at inflicting financial loss on the media house since all its production have been stopped.
“The attack and closure of media houses in such a manner is uncalled for since the implicated personnel could be summoned to the police for interrogations and taken to court. Such acts violate the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of expression and the media in Uganda which we must resist,” the statement reads in part.