DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, has urged Uganda President Yoweri Museveni to allow the press to carry out its essential role as a watchdog.
“In the interests of a free and democratic Uganda, we therefore call on your office to cease such methods of intimidation, to reprimand the tactics of intimidation deployed by the police, and to do everything in your power to show civic leadership in calling for greater respect for the profession of journalism,” Michael Golden, President of (WAN-IFRA) said.
WAN-IFRA registered its concern over the recent treatment and detention of media professionals representing Red Pepper. On 21 November, police operatives removed eight directors and editors from their offices at Pepper Publications Group and detained them at Nalufenya Police Detention Centre in Jinja. The eight included Richard Tusiime, Johnson Musinguzi,
Patrick Mugumya, Arinatiwe Rugyendo, Richard Kintu, Ben Byarabaha, Francis Tumusiime, and James Mujuni.
The following day, the editors were forced to reveal computer passwords to police detectives who were attempting to establish the source of a story published by Red Pepper on 20 November concerning an alleged plot to overthrow the government of neighbouring Rwanda.
The editors have since appeared in court charged with publication of information prejudicial to security, libel, and offensive communication.
“We write to express our condemnation of the handling of this case. If the government believes that the editors indeed committed a crime in publishing details of this story, then we respectfully remind the relevant authorities that the rule of law exists in Uganda and that due procedure therefore should have been followed,” Golden, in a statement addressed to
Uganda President, said. It also furnished a copy to David Callaway, President of World Editors Forum.
WAN-IFRA said that detaining the eight (8) at Nalufenya Police Detention Centre, a location used by the police to hold individuals suspected of capital offences such as terrorism and treason, “would appear to serve no other purpose than to intimidate the Red Pepper staff. Such actions risk unleashing a chilling effect throughout the media profession in Uganda.”
“We take this opportunity to express our growing unease at the way media is being treated in Uganda. Editors from media houses such as Monitor Publications Ltd. and Vision Group have recently been summoned to the Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Directorate regarding stories they have published. Although they have not been officially charged in court, this trend of summoning and interrogating editors is likely to instil further concern among journalists across the country. Such actions will likely lead to an increase in self-censorship and an understandable reluctance to pursue future stories for fear of recrimination or legal harassment,” the statement reads.
“For journalists already struggling under what is a difficult climate for professional journalism, the actions of the security forces – and apparent willingness of the government to pursue legal action against media as a means of stifling reporting into issues of clear public interest and national importance – severely infringes on the freedom of the press to carry out its essential watchdog role.
In the interests of a free and democratic Uganda, we therefore call on your office to cease such methods of intimidation, to reprimand the tactics of intimidation deployed by the police, and to do everything in your power to show civic leadership in calling for greater respect for the profession of journalism,” Golden emphasized.-Editha Z. Caduaya/Newsline.ph