Two Ugandan daily newspapers and two radio stations remained closed and under armed guard for a second day Tuesday, May 21, as the police continued to comb their offices for the source and copies of documents related to the touchy question of presidential succession.
Criticism of the government’s actions also mounted, with media advocacy groups and one diplomatic mission weighing in.
The shutdown, which occurred on Monday, meant that both the Daily Monitor and Red Pepper could not print their Tuesday editions.
Dembe FM and KFM also remained closed. The two radio stations share premises with the Daily Monitor and all three media outlets are owned by Monitor Publications.
The police said on Monday that the offices, which they declared scenes of crime, would remain closed as they search to find the information they want.
Managers at both newspapers said they were weighing their options.
“We are not waiting another day of illegality,” said Mr Alex Asiimwe, the Monitor’s managing director. “The legal option is already happening. We are saying that this needs to be stopped.”
One of Red Pepper’s founders, Mr Arinaitwe Rugyendo, said, “All options are on the table. It is a long fight to regain what duly belongs to us.”
Unless they find an alternative printer, the two newspapers will still not have their print editions out on Wednesday. At both dailies, newsrooms and presses are located in the same enclosure.
The majority government-owned New Vision and Bukedde were the only dailies on the streets on Tuesday.
Published on May 7 in the Daily Monitor, a 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.
Gen. Sejusa, who is away in Europe and has been giving different days for his return, has since written other letters/releases, which the Red Pepper has carried, and which the police want.
In his initial letter, addressed to a subordinate but which ended up leaking to the media, Gen. Sejusa, the co-ordinator of intelligence services, claims those to be framed and eliminated for their perceived opposition to the ‘Muhoozi Project’ are Prime Minister AmamaMbabazi, Chief of Defence Forces Aronda Nyakairima and the general himself.
President Museveni’s son, a commander of the elite Special Forces, is Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
The US Mission in Kampala on Tuesday condemned the government actions.
“These disruptions, no matter the justifications offered, nonetheless risk having a chilling effect on the freedoms of expression and speech enshrined in the Ugandan Constitution,” the mission said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Ms Maria Burnett, the senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said muzzling the media was no way to address political debates.
“Police should resolve legal disputes before the courts without resorting to abusive tactics to scare journalists away from politically sensitive stories,” she said.
Last week a magistrate’s court ordered the Daily Monitor to provide the letter that started it all and reveal its source to the police, an order which the paper promptly appealed.
In a remarkable disregard of court process, the police launched their raid, which they say was sanctioned by a magistrate’s court, before the High Court ruled on the matter.
The Monitor lawyer criticised the police for securing various court orders without following up on previous ones.
Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, the chairman of broadcast media regulator Uganda Communications Commission, said while the commission had no case against KFM and Dembe radio stations, the fact that they are housed at a crime scene was reason enough to keep them off air.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) took issue with the UCC view saying there was no justification for the stations to suffer for the alleged sins of Daily Monitor.
The NAB said in a statement it issued on Tuesday: “Should transmission equipment be turned off in a search for a document? Should operations of a business be stopped because of an alleged crime committed by another person? In light of the facts, common sense dictates that the single answer to all the above questions is NO.”
Signed by NAB chairman Francis Babu, the statement further reads: “There has been no indication by the [police] of how long the search will take and this state of affairs when coupled with the un-necessary action of closure of operations of the stations makes the whole situation appear as an act of intimidation, harassment and indeed high-handedness which does not augur well with the rule of law and should be condemned as such, as it were.”
Several Ugandans took advantage of social media to continue their condemnation of the Museveni government’s most extensive crackdown on media in decades.