Five directors and three editors of the Red Pepper publication will spend another two weeks in jail before they can learn whether they will be set free just ahead of Christmas Day.
The group, held since 21 November 2017, was sent back on remand at Luzira Prison to await a bail application ruling to be delivered on 19 December.
Buganda Road Chief Magistrate Mawanda Eremye said he needed time to reach a decision. “I have lengthy submissions with so many documents,” he said at a bail hearing today. “This time will to allow me go through and appreciate these affidavits [supporting the bail application] properly.”
The Pepper leaders, held first at Nalufenya Detention Centre in Jinja, are charged with, among others, publishing information prejudicial to security, libel and offensive communication directed at the persons of President Yoweri Museveni and his brother, Gen. Salim Saleh.
The charges arise from publication of a story in Red Pepper of 20 November 2017 titled, “M7 plotting to overthrow Kagame – Rwanda”.
The next day, waving a court-issued search warrant, police raided and sealed off the tabloid’s offices in Namanve and confiscated phones, laptops and other gadgets belonging to staff.
According to the warrant, laptops, desktops, CPUs, computer accessories, and any other document related to the publication of Vol 17. No 154 of Monday 20 November 2017 were to be searched.
The accused are directors Richard Tusiime, Patrick Mugumya, Arinaitwe Rugyendo, James Mujuni and Johnson Musinguzi and staff members Ben Byarabaha (managing editor), Richard Kintu (news editor), and Tumusiime Francis Tinywana (general manager and Bwino newspaper editor.)
To-date, all Red Pepper publications, namely: Kamunye, Entatsi, Bwino and the main newspaper are not in operation as the premises in Namanve remain sealed off by police.
At the hearing, the state, represented by Mr Abdul-Salam Waiswa, argued that despite bail being a right, court should not release the accused because of the gravity of the charges.
“Although the accused may not be directly responsible for insecurity, their actions of publishing this headline story which had the potential of affecting the security of these two nations should be seen as being a very serious action of disregard of the duty of a journalist for which the accused persons are not exempt under Section 3 of the Press and Journalist Act,” Mr Waiswa said.
He said that if released, the accused could continue to jeopardise the security of the entire Great Lakes Region and could also tamper with evidence and hinder on-going investigations.
Mr Waiswa also pointed out that the accused’s sureties were not reliable as they had no known relationship with them and that the accused had no known permanent place of abode. This, he said, could make it hard for the state to track them.
In rebuttal, Red Pepper lawyer Maxim Mutabingwa said: “The offence of publishing information prejudicial to security with which they have been charged does not tally with the law. Section 37 of the Penal Code points to exposure of military operations, strategies, location, movement, etc as threatening security. But the story which run in the Red Pepper did not disclose any of the above. I think these charges were just to cause alarm and make the case seem big.”
In regard to computer misuse, Mr Mutabingwa said: “Using a computer to publish a newspaper is not computer misuse. Where is the misuse? It’s not there.”
He added that the state had confiscated the accused’s phones and computers and therefore there was no way they could tamper with evidence.