Uganda’s Brazen Press Crackdown Continues

Staff of the independent Ugandan newspaper the Daily Monitor are without an office as a standoff with Ugandan police entered its 10th day. All over a letter written by a general in the Ugandan army that rankled President Museveni.

Ugandan police unceremoniously stormed the offices of the independent newspaper the Daily Monitor last Monday. Police searched the offices of the newspaper for a letter written by General David Sejusa, thanks to a warrant issued by the Nakawa Magistrates Court. The opposition figure raised concerns for the safety of people who oppose a secret plan of succession from President Museveni, in office since 1986, to his son. Police also took two radio stations connected with the Daily Monitor, KFM and Dembe FM, off the air. The letter also led to the removal of army chief Gen. Aronda Nyakairima and his deputy from service due to their inclusion in the Sejusa letter.

“You need to investigate the very serious claims that the same actors are re-organising elements of former Wembley under one police officer Ayegasire Nixon to assassinate people who disagree with this so-called family project of holding onto power in perpetuity,” wrote the general at the beginning of the month.

Sejusa traveled to London shortly after the publication of the letter and has remained there since the furor and media raids. His lawyer says that Britain granted Sejusa the ability to stay in the country over fears for his life. He accused the government of using the military as a de facto political prison by forcing opposition members to enlist and employing military law to suppress opinions.

“I refuse to succumb to perpetual abuse,” he said. “(The president) must set us free and set my suffering comrades free or we shall free ourselves. I speak for those gallant officers who are virtual prisoners in the army but can’t say a word because they fear to be framed … or worse,” said Sejusa from London, according to the AP.

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The occupation of the offices and protests continue into their tenth day. Police say that they will vacate the premises of the Daily Monitor once they obtain a copy of Sejusa’s letter. The police say it is an important piece of evidence as a part of their investigations into the general who broke military law by engaging in partisan political activities. Demands go further than the letter, reports The Observer, citing demands that the Daily Monitor no longer write negative stories about the army, the president or his family.

“You cannot compel journalists to reveal to you their sources of information. We cannot divulge our sources because we will be endangering them…what we are saying here is media houses should be given an opportunity to do their work,” said Geoffrey Ssebaggala, national coordinator of Uganda’s Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ-U) to VOA.

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Ugandan courts vacated the search warrant for the Daily Monitor’s offices late last week, but police continue to prevent staff from entering the building. Reporters protesting the police actions and covering the situation are using Twitter to share pictures and updated information about the ongoing stand off.

 

Police used teargas and a water cannon to break up protests organized by HRNJ-U. The group said yesterday that it planned to file a formal complaint to the Ugandan courts in regards to the closure of the Daily Monitor. Rights groups are condemning the actions by the Uganda police.

“The blocking for the past ten days of media that are important sources of news and information for the Ugandan public is a grave violation of freedom of expression,” said Reporters Without Borders in a release.

A pair of reporters from WBS TB were arrested during the three hour-long protests on Tuesday. One of the men arrested, Williams Ntege, said he was struck several times by a police officer using a baton. There are already reports of police deploying teargas against protesters and media covering the story today as the media siege, as dubbed by Ugandans on Twitter, continues against the Daily Monitor.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.