Photo credit: The Observer
The three editors and five directors of the Pepper Publications Limited who have been in jail for almost a month have been released on bail.
There was a sigh of relief from friends, family and relatives in the packed court room when the ruling was delivered at 12:20pm on Tuesday, 19 December 2017. They had been waiting since 9am.
The Buganda Road Court Grade One Magistrate Samuel Kagoda granted the editors and directors a non-cash bail of Shs20m and also ordered them to deposit their passports with the court.
The accused, who have been behind bars since November 21, are charged with 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 the Red Pepper of 20 November 2017 titled, “M7 plotting to overthrow Kagame – Rwanda”. The paper was raided by police the next day which sealed off the premises, took phones, laptops and gadgets belonging to staff.
Lawyer Max Mutabingwa who has been representing the publication’s employees, welcomed the bail ruling but was disappointed that his clients had spent a lot of time in jail.
“They have been in prison for a month. Why should you give me bail before a magistrate’s court after a period of one month?” he wondered.
The accused are directors Richard Tusiime, Patrick Mugumya, Arinaitwe Rugyendo, James Mujuni and Johnson Musinguzi; and Ben Byarabaha (managing editor), Richard Kintu (news editor), and Tumusiime Francis Tinywana (general manager and Bwino newspaper editor).
To-date, all Pepper publications, namely: Red Pepper, Kamunye, Entatsi and Bwino have not been in circulation as their premises in Namanve remain sealed off by police.
Mutabingwa said the next course of action would be to have the premises opened. “We have two options. We can negotiate with the government to reopen or we can go to the High Court for an order. Since they are out, we shall see the most appropriate action to take,” he said.
Robert Ssempala, the coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists in Uganda said the Red Pepper editors and the directors had only gained half their freedom.
“This is partial freedom because the economic freedom hasn’t been restored. The Red Pepper is still shut down. Our next phase of the fight is to reopen Red Pepper,” he said.
Andrew Irumba, the clients’ relations manager at the Red Pepper accused government of economic sabotage.
“I know that there are over 20,000 families that have gone hungry because Red Pepper is closed. The government doesn’t consider the other people. If you are talking about business saboteurs, you cannot isolate this one. This is business sabotage,” Irumba said outside the court premises.