Media shutdown in Uganda

21 May 2013 | ResolutionPossible

The offices of the Daily Monitor and the Red Pepper, popular newspapers in Uganda, have been searched by police and two radio stations were shut down. This comes after the media outlets published a statement by General David Sejusa of the UPDF (Uganda’s national army) in which he talks of President Museveni’s alleged plan for his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to take over the presidency. The letter also speaks of a plot to assassinate people opposing ‘Project Muhoozi’.

Police raid Daily Monitor (Twitter: @r_ssewa)

These developments could be a further indicator of the divide that has been felt within the UPDF for some time, based on a sense that there is an ‘army within an army’. The Special Forces Command, headed by Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, is better equipped and trained than other units.

General Sejusa is currently not in Uganda due to the risk of being arrested. Sources who do not wish to be named have reported an increase in military hardware in Entebbe, the location of Uganda’s international airport.

The privately owned Daily Monitor released a statement emphasising that while they do not know if Sejusa’s claims are true, they ‘have a duty to report what the general, as a senior figure in the establishment, is saying’, and warning that freedom of press in Uganda is under threat.

A free press is an essential part of a democracy. It is not a luxury. A free press holds the powerful and the wealthy to account. It asks questions. It investigates. It defends the weak. The press is not perfect.

– Daily Monitor, 20th May 2013

Tabloid paper Red Pepper are ‘saddened and disappointed that despite us complying with the court’s request, the police have refused to vacate our premises and to allow us to carry on with our work’:

We have since been informed by our friends in government that this is not about just a Press Release which was distributed to all media in Uganda, but a long term plan orchestrated to cripple Red Pepper economically and disable its capacity to do business in Uganda anymore. We have been informed that the plan is to keep our offices closed for as long as they like, dismantle our new printing press, destroy our computers and servers by installing malicious malware and then hand over the junk when they are satisfied that we have been taken back to the stone age.

– Red Pepper, 21st May 2013

From the Uganda Police Force statement:

Uganda Police, on May 15, 2013, received a Court Order, from the Chief Magistrates Court Nakawa, requiring Daily Monitor journalists to avail and provide the original copyof a letter and other related documents, purportedly authored by Gen. David Sejusa (a.k.a.Tinyefuza), and the source of the said missive. The said documents are to help police investigate criminal offences… Though multiple requests were made, the organization has adamantly refused to complywith the Court Order leading to issuance of a search warrant by the same Nakawa Magistrates Court.

– Judith Nabakooba, Police Spokesperson, 20th May 2013

The Minister of Information and National Guidance, Mary Okurut, has issued the following press release:

Members of the Uganda Police Force this morning cordoned off the premises of theNation Media Group in Namuwongo and Pepper Publications in Namanve. The FMradio stations – K FM and Dembe FM were taken off-air. This is to reassure Ugandans that the government is not interfering with press freedom. The search of the above premises comes on the heels of the utterances made by Gen.David Sejusa, aka Tinyefuza which have caused undue excitement. This is being treated as a matter of national security… There is nothing untoward or surprising about the procedures used, as great care has been taken to follow the law to the letter. For the time being the premises inquestion are being treated as crime scenes.

– Hon. Mary Karooro Okurut, 21st May 2013

Do you think the government had a right to search and shut down key media outlets in the interests of national security? Was the Court Order just, or an infringement on press freedom? Is this a one off occurrence, or could it signal a move towards tighter control of the media as we have seen in Burundi and Rwanda?

Following our visit to East Africa last year, we asked some general questions about freedom of speech, which you are welcome to comment on. You may also be interested to read our blog about this topic from February this year, The media in the media.

 

Sample media coverage:

Ugandan police raid newspapers to discover story’s source – The Guardian, 21 May 2013

Cops ransack Red Pepper Offices in second day of siege – Red Pepper, 21 May 2013

Our closure not about Sejusa letter – Red Pepper – The Observer (Uganda), 21 May 2013

Army says Gen. Sejusa has case to answer (video) – NTV (Uganda), 20 May 2013

Ugandan police raid offices of independent newspaper in probe related to wanted general – Washington Post, 20 May 2013

Project Muhoozi fiasco reveals a state in crisis – The East African (Kenya), 18 May 2013

General Sejusa, all this is completely unnecessary – Daily Monitor (Uganda), 17 May 2013

UCC issues statement on Gen. Sejusa coverage – The Independent (Uganda), 14 May 2013

Succession: Suddenly Uganda is up for grabs – The East African (Kenya), 11 May 2013

Ugandan general highlights succession debate in letter – Reuters, 10 May 2013

No one is intimidating Gen. Tinyefuza – New Vision (Uganda), 9 May 2013

The curious incident of the military man who bit the hand that fed him – The East African (Kenya), 13 October 2012

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