Media house closure enters day 3 as Red Pepper prints ‘freedom issue’

The government’s closure of two privately owned Ugandan dailies and two radio stations entered day three today, May 22, with one of the newspapers beating the odds to print what its editors dubbed the “Freedom Issue”.

“Red Pepper is back where it started 12 years ago,” reads a post on the paper’s Facebook wall. “Printing from the ‘bush’. This is the ‘Freedom Issue’ it’s not our normal quality but pliz accept it.”
The Daily Monitor, the other paper that the police closed and turned off the presses, remained off the streets.
In a co-ordinated swoop on May 20, squadrons of armed police officers swarmed the offices of the two dailies in search of documents written by a senior military officer regarding the sensitive question of presidential succession.
The police cordoned off and labelled their offices crime scenes. They also said the media houses would remain closed until detectives found the documents and their source.
During the raid, transmission at Dembe FM and KFM was disconnected. The two stations share offices with the Daily Monitor, and all three media outlets are owned by Monitor Publications.
“Our offices are still locked up and occupied by policemen for the 3rd day, but our spirit is UNBROKEN,” The Red Pepper tweeted.
“Search at Monitor has resumed now,” Daily Monitor’s Brenda Banura said on Twitter. “Today they start an hour later than yesterday. They are searching the news room.”
The Uganda Human Rights Commission, a statutory agency, became the latest high-profile entity to criticise the government’s actions.
“The Act of closing the media houses amounted to a denial of information to the public and as such a violation of freedom of press contrary to Article 29(1)(a) of the Constitution and the right to seek, receive and impart information,” reads a section of the Commission’s statement.
The Commission further criticised the “method of operation and manner in which the media houses were cordoned off”, saying it breached the “fundamental principle of the inalienable right to a fair hearing”.
The US Mission in Kampala and Human Rights Watch have also criticised the government.
The newspapers’ troubles stem from a leaked letter published on May 7 in the Daily Monitor.
Written by Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza, the letter asks one of his subordinates to investigate 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 plus the source.
In his initial letter, 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 Amama Mbabazi, 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.
Last week a magistrate’s court ordered the Daily Monitor to provide the letter 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.
Both media houses, located about 10km apart in Kampala, have their respective head offices and printing presses, in the same enclosure.
But while the Red Paper managed to print an edition today, the Daily Monitor stayed silent. Even its website had virtually no activity.
For its efforts, the Red Pepper got more harassment.
Mr Patrick Mugumya, one the Pepper’s senior managers, tweeted earlier Wednesday: “The cops here just seen a copy of RP ‘Freedom Issue’ now the phone calls & questions; ‘where did you print this from’.
Hours later he tweeted, “Police officers have arrested vendors and newspaper agents in Kampala found with today’s edition of Red Pepper ‘Freedom Issue’.”
The paper’s lead story had a banner headline saying, “THE TRUTH”, with one kicker reading: “Why Security Raided Red Pepper”. The second lead story spoke of President Museveni summoning the military’s high command to a meeting.
Meanwhile, reporters continued to express their disappointment on Facebook and Twitter over the closure.
“Mr. President, the press is not the enemy. Please order your men off Daily Monitor and Red Pepper premises,” wrote Mr Dennis Muhumuza, a Daily Monitor reporter, on his Facebook wall.
“If journalists can be treated like this because of Sejusa’s letter, how would the government deal with the author if he returned to Uganda?” Daily Monitor photojournalist Rachel Mabala opined on Facebook.
The rights commission asked the police to “expeditiously complete the search exercise so as to allow normality to return in the media houses”.

Grace Natabaalo

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

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