A crackdown on prominent media institutions in Uganda today chillingly illustrates the limits of press freedoms and must be halted immediately. As police conduct raids on the premises of four media offices and blocked the broadcast of two radio stations, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative join with other civil society organizations in Uganda in condemning the raids and calling for respect of freedom of expression and media freedoms.
On the morning of 20th May 2013 Ugandan Police began raids on the offices of the Monitor Publications Limited (MPL) in Namuwongo, Kampala, as well as those of the Red Pepper Newspaper in Namanve, a suburb neighbouring Kampala. Broadcasts of the MPL-owned English-language KFM Radio 93.3 and Luganda-language Dembe FM 90.4 were blacked out into the afternoon. Printing presses servicing the Daily Monitor and Red Pepper Newspaper were switched off, although the editors of the Monitor were able to publish a statement of protest online.
Civil society held a protest in solidarity with the media institutions outside the offices of the Daily Monitor in which prominent national human rights defenders spoke in defense of media freedoms. The police fired tear gas on the crowd late afternoon.
The intent of the raids is allegedly the recovery of a leaked letter dated 29th April 2013 authored by General David Sejusa (formerly General Tinyefuza) claiming the son of President Yoweri Museveni, Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was being groomed to succeed his father in power. The leaked letter, widely reported on and discussed in the media over the past week, went on to claim that internal opponents to the ‘Muhoozi Project’ were being targeted for assassination.
Following publication of the letter, journalists and media managers have been harassed in attempts to recover the letter and reveal its source, including through summonses before Uganda’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and through the issuance of a court order. The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on 14th May 2013 issued warnings that it might withdraw media licenses from media companies whose reporting on the Sejusa letter “have not been professional and impartial”.
“Freedom of the media is fundamental for a healthy democracy,” said EHAHRDP Executive Director, Hassan Shire Sheikh. “Any attempt to stigmatize and politicize legitimate media activities should be stiffly resisted by all sectors of Ugandan society.”
“Today’s events are a manifestation of continuing disrespect of the rights of individuals, including the media,” said Mr Livingstone Sewanyana, Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative. “The State should be warned that these are strong signals of the reversal of our democratic process, which is highly regretted.”
The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative and East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project express their solidarity and call on the State to end all attempts to restrict freedom of the press in Uganda.
For more information, please contact:
Mr Hassan Shire Sheikh, Executive Director, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders on +256 772 753 753, [email protected] or [email protected];
Mr Livingstone Sewanyana, Executive Director, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative on +256 414 510 263 or [email protected];
Ms Rachel Nicholson, Advocacy Officer, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders on +256 778 921 274 or [email protected]
 The Monitor, “State Should Stop Muzzling Free Press – Monitor Editors”, 20th May 2013, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/State-should-stop-muzzling-free-press—Monitor-Editors/-/688334/1858002/-/hl3nunz/-/index.html
 The Monitor, “UCC Threatens to Withdraw Radio Licences over Tinyefuza”, 15th May 2013, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/UCC-threatens-to-withdraw-radio-licences-over-Tinyefuza/-/688334/1853030/-/rgr0h7z/-/index.html