The body that brings together online news publishers in Uganda has demanded for the immediate arraignment of the 8 detained ‘Red Pepper’ journalists and senior editors. The publishers have given government an ultimatum to have the detainees produced in court, threatening a ban on coverage of all police related activities.
On Tuesday this week, police raided the headquarters of the daily newspaper ‘Red Pepper’ in Namanve and arrested 5 directors and 3 senior editors before shutting down all the company’s operations. The newspaper and its other subsidiaries; Kamunye News Paper, Entatsi Weekly News Paper, RedPepper–Online and JuiceFM-103.4 radio station have since been closed.
This is in connection to a news story published in the tabloid on Monday November 20, 2017 alleging that President Yoweri Museveni along with his brother General Salim Saleh and Security Minister Henry Tumukunde were plotting to oust Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Police said the story was prejudicial to security and charged the journalists with treason and offensive communication.
In a statement released on Friday, Uganda Online Media Publishers Association (OMPA) condemned police for detaining the journalists beyond the constitutional 48 hours.
“While OMPA respects the mandate of the Uganda Police to keep law and order, we are equally concerned and deeply troubled that the 8 directors are now being detained beyond the constitutional 48 hours,” the statement issued by OMPA President, Giles Muhame read.
The Association expressed worry over the fact that the 8 are being detained at the Jinja based Nalufenya detention facility which is infamous for gross torture of suspects. In addition to the fear for possible torture, OMPA said Nalufenya is inaccessible to family members of the suspects.
Subsequently, the publishers have demanded that “our colleagues be brought to competent courts of law and charged accordingly, be granted immediate access to their families and loved ones and the siege on The Red Pepper premises be lifted and the business be allowed to resume”.
“Should our colleagues not be brought to court today [Friday], OMPA will declare a ban on coverage of all police activities and events for a period of 2 months,” Muhame said in the statement.
The Association has appealed to all other media houses to join the ban to defend the freedom of expression and the safety of all journalists in Uganda.
They say that the treason charges preferred against the accused journalists are “frivolous” and deliberate to have them detained longer than necessary given that state prosecutors are currently on strike.