Police question Monitor journalists as government moves to gag media

If the police have their way, three Daily Monitor journalists may be charged in court for refusal to divulge information in their possession about a letter the paper published a week ago alleging a falling out in high government circles over the question of presidential succession.


Published on May 7, the explosive letter by Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza 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.
The planned charges were read out to Managing Editor Don Wanyama and reporters Richard Wanambwa and Risdel Kasasira after detectives interrogated them for more than six hours in Kampala.
The questioning, on May 14, came the same day the government moved in a co-ordinated effort to contain public discussion by preventing the media reporting arguably the juiciest political story in Uganda in many years. Regulators warned journalists against playing into the hands of the officer, who they say is posturing to advance his own political agenda.
The Daily Monitor journalists had initially been summoned to help in investigations into allegations made by the officer, “but as it turned out, they have now been charged by police for refusing to furnish information and provide a certain document, the letter”, said the paper’s lawyer, who is representing the journalists.
The lawyer, Mr James Nangwala, added: “They gave information to the best of their knowledge and subject to their professional limitations as regards to furnishing information regarding resources.”
The journalists were quizzed under the Police Act, which gives police powers to compel anyone to offer information.
In his letter, Gen. Sejusa, the co-ordinator of national intelligence agencies, claims those to be framed and eliminated for their perceived opposition to ‘Muhoozi Project’ are Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Chief of Defence Forces Aronda Nyakairima and the general himself.
President Yoweri Museveni’s 39-year-old son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, a brigadier who has trained at some of the world’s most elite military academies, is the commander of the equally elite Special Forces Command. This command is charged with protecting the president and key national installations. Talk is rife that Brig. Kainerugaba has risen too fast for being his father’s son and that he is being groomed to replace him. Mr Museveni has been in power since 1986.
Sources at Daily Monitor said that the president called the paper’s management on Sunday, May 12, to express his displeasure at the coverage of the story.
On Tuesday, Information Minister Karooro Okurut issued a statement bluntly titled, Warning to Media against Undermining National Security. “Government takes with great concern the sensational manner in which the media has reported and continues to report on this sensitive national security matter,” she wrote.
The same day, broadcast regulator Uganda Communications Communication issued a full-page newspaper statement saying, partly: “Some media are turning the coverage of what should be news and factual broadcasts into political campaigns which are capable of derailing the socio-economic stability of the country. This renders the country to unnecessary vulnerability.” It added that the government agencies were handling the matter “and those processes should not be interfered with as a result of the unbalanced and sensational broadcasts”.
Mr Wanyama said he was questioned as to how the story had been sourced. “There will be no disclosure of sources unless it is through a court order,” he said later. “We made it clear that that kind of co-operation will be hard to offer. It contradicts … the Press and Journalist Act.”
Mr Kasasira, a co-author of the story with Mr Wanambwa, said: “They asked me whether I had seen the letter; they wanted to know the source of the letter and who brought it to us. I told them that I cannot reveal that. They also asked me about the role I played in the publication of the story. I told them I just gathered and reported the news.”
The reporter added that one of the detectives told him that not co-operating could lead to punishment.
For Mr Wanambwa, the police showed him clippings of all his stories about Gen. Sejusa, who has since postponed his return from Europe where he was on a trip when the story broke, and was asked: “Why are you the only one writing all these articles?”

Grace Natabaalo

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

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