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Uganda: Police raids on the media are an attack on free expression

 

21 May 2013

ARTICLE 19 condemns police raids on media houses in Uganda following the publication of a letter that has sparked intense political debate in the country. Police officers forced entry into the offices of newspapers The Monitor and The Red Pepper, suspending their operations - and have taken associated radio stations 93.3 KFM and 90.4 Dembe FM off air.

ARTICLE 19 believes the police raids to be part of a politically motivated attack intended to prevent debate about an issue of public importance. ARTICLE 19 also finds that the legal process for the raids has been abused. The police are now searching for the letter at the centre of this crisis, which concerns plans for the President Yoweri Museveni’s son to succeed him when he stands down from power. Two weeks ago, The Monitor printed a letter that is alleged to have been written by General David Sejusa and sent to the Internal Security Organisation, asking them to investigate reports about plans to murder military officials in opposition to Kainerugaba Muhoozi’s succession.

“What we are witnessing is an attempt by the government to muzzle the media, force them into a corner and stifle freedom of expression” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa. On Thursday 16 May 2013, a Magistrate’s Court in Kampala ordered journalists at The Daily Monitor to hand over the said letter and reveal its source to the police. The order related to four individuals in particular: Simon Freeman (Executive Editor), Don Wanyama (Managing Editor), Wanambwa Richard and Risdel Kasasira (who are both reporters). 

ARTICLE 19 finds that this order contravenes Principle XV of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which was adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in 2002; this is because the order was not issued after a full hearing. This Principle relates specifically to the protection of journalistic sources and other journalistic materials. “There are crucial questions about the very legality of these searches by the police. There has been a fundamental abuse of the legal process. The management of The Monitor had contested to the court order, and the issue was still being dealt with by the court” added Maina.

The police raids are the latest move by the authorities to crack down on media reporting about the story concerning the possible ‘grooming’ of the President’s son for power. Last week the Uganda Communications Commission issued a warning to withdraw licenses from radios and television stations that report about what is now being referred to as the “Muhoozi Project.” Since the publication of the letter, there has been sustained public debate in the media on the issue.

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