Friday May 31 2013

Chronology of events leading to closure of Monitor premises

Riot police arrest an activist who was participating in a peaceful demonstration in support of media freedom following the closure of Monitor Publications.

Riot police arrest an activist who was participating in a peaceful demonstration in support of media freedom following the closure of Monitor Publications. Photo by Rachel Mabala 

Tuesday May 7
Daily Monitor publishes a story titled “Probe Assassination Claims, Says Tinyefuza”. The story was quoting a letter written by the coordinator of Intelligence Services Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza to ISO director general Ronald Balya asking him to investigate claims that there is a plot to assassinate senior army and government officials deemed opposed to the so-called “Muhoozi project” to have him succeed his father Yoweri Museveni as president of Uganda

Wednesday May 8
Army Commander Gen. Aronda Nyakairima and Inspector General of Police Lt. Gen. Kale Kayihura issue a press statement condemning Gen. Sejusa over the contents of his letter. Gen. Nyakairima says the spy chief was “acting out of order” and was peddling falsehoods. Lt. Gen. Kayihura described the allegations as termed the allegations as “crap, outrageous and annoying”.

Friday May 10
Police CIID officers deliver summons to Daily Monitor offices on 8th Street. The require reporters Richard Wananbwa and Risdel Kasasira, the authors of the story, and Don Wanyama, the managing editor – dailies to appear at for interrogation at CIID headquarters at Kibuli.

Tuesday May 14, Wednesday May 15 & Thursday May 16
Managing Editor – Dailies Don Wanyama and reporters Richard Wananbwa and Risdel Kaasira are interrogated for three straight days with the police demanding that the journalist reveal their source and hand over the original Sejusa letter to enable the state carry out further investigations. Daily Monitor position is that the contests of the letter were published and we do not have the copy. Besides it was not addressed to the newspaper so it cannot have the original copy.

Thursday May 16
Police obtains a court order from Nakawa Magistrate’s Court ordering the newspaper to hand over the Sejusa letter to police.

Friday May 17
Daily Monitor lawyers file an appeal in the High Court challenging the order issued by the magistrates court requiring the newspaper to hand over the Sejusa letter to the police maintaining it is an affront on the principles of privileged sources for journalist as guaranteed in the constitution.

Monday May 20
Armed police surround the Daily Monitor premises and bring the operations of the newspaper and its two sister radios—KFM and Dembe FM, to a halt. And by 1.00 pm, just 30mins after the premises are surrounded by police; members of local civil societies like Mr Livingstone Ssewanyana, Mr Crispy Kaheru, Mr Ssebagala Wokulira and Ms Jackie Mwesige among others are the first to show up at the Daily Monitor premises expressing solidarity and support. Five minutes later, former Ethics Minister and now activist Miria Matembe showed saying “Museveni and his men have since forgotten why they went to the bush”.

Tuesday May 21
The United States Embassy in Kampala issues a statement warning that the government’s actions “risk having a chilling effect on the freedoms of expression and speech enshrined in the Ugandan Constitution."
On the same day a US based, watchdog, Freedom House, says the attacks on the media are “indicative of a troubling movement by the Ugandan government to stifle opposition voices.”

Wednesday May 22
The European Union Delegation issues a statement noting that the “rights [to free speech] are provided for under the Constitution and must be upheld”. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) issues a statement on the same day stating that the closure was “an affront on media freedom.” Still on the same day, (May 22), in a letter to the President, the Doha Centre For Media Excellence (DCME) says “use of intimidation as a tactics against the members of the media to attempt to control the content of what they publish is unacceptable and must be stopped immediately”.

On the same day, The Observer publishes a half-page news analysis about the state of the free media in Uganda. Quoting media scholars and university lecturer Ben Bella Illakut warned that the political forces in the country remain powerful enough to be a threat to journalism. But he still urged that this does not mean the media should not fight for its rightful and legitimate space. The challenge, he said, was to maintain the courage to continue speaking the truth. The report noted that the façade of a free media in Uganda continued faced the ever-present danger of attack whenever the government feels threatened.

Thursday May 23
Uganda Law Society (ULS) president Ms Ruth Sebatindira issues a statement asking government to immediately and unconditionally permit media houses that were closed to resume their operations. ULS says there is need to ensure that the Police Force and all other State actors observe the rule of law "even when they are carrying out their respective cardinal responsibilities". “In a free and democratic society, it cannot be reasonable conduct to put hundreds of people out of work for an unknown duration without legal authorisation simply on account of the search for a letter,” says Ms Sebatindira.

Meanwhile Members of Parliament calling themselves “friends of the media” on May 23 castigate the decision of the deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah to block a key motion seeking, among other things, to force government to reopen the closed media houses. This was after an emotional debate that dragged on way beyond the time the august House ends its business. The legislators, among them the Busiro East MP Medard Ssegona (DP) and Buyaga MP Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) had sought to move a motion seeking for a resolution of parliament to reopen Daily Monitor, Kfm, Red Pepper and Dembe FM.

Friday May 24
A day after the government came under intensive questioning from MPs over its actions, the State-owned New Vision reported about Internal Affairs minister Hilary Onek’s statement to Parliament. In the statement, Mr Onek claimed the newspapers had not been closed but only been asked to halt operations to allow for the search for the Sejusa letter to proceed.

Writing in May 24 edition of the US based newspaper, The Huffington Post, Ms Maria Burnett, the senior Africa researcher with the Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international organization that advocates for good governance, notes that the heavy-handed police response to the recent allegations (claims about the content of Gen. Sejusa’s letter) gives weight to the contents of the letter. She says President Museveni seems to be sending a signal that he won't tolerate free and independent media when he begins his campaigns for the 2016 elections -- in what will be his thirtieth year in office. She is also quoted in the East Africa newspaper of May 25, as saying that "muzzling the media is a bad way to address Uganda's political debates."

Saturday May 25
Players in the tourism industry express fears over the action of the government, saying it compromises the image of the country as a tourism destination. “Government and the media must find ways of dialoguing to stop the siege because this act is worsening the image foreigners have about Uganda,” Mr Amos Wekesa, a businessman and tourism blogger says.

On the same day, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issues a statement describing the government action as a flagrant violation of Uganda’s obligations under international human rights law to allow journalists freedom to speak and write without fear of persecution, arrest and intimidation. OHCHR was also concerned that, the police siege at the media was on-going despite the withdrawal of the search warrant by the Court and its order for the police to vacate the installations and stop the search forthwith.

Sunday May 25/26
Columnists writing in the Saturday Nation and Sunday Vision newspapers allude to the dangers looming ahead in light of the government’s shut-down of the two newspapers and radio stations. Mr George Kegoro, in the Saturday Nation lead column, observes that given President Museveni’s seniority in the East African region, the internal problems in Uganda had implications for stability and the realisation of the objective of East African Community. He also feared that what he described as high-handed behaviour could be copied by the younger leaders in the region. In describing the relationship between the government and the media, Mr Simon Kaheru used the analogy of marriage between man and woman which will, from time to time, require the services of a counsellor. He spoke of the importance of the media as the Fourth Estate of government in a democracy.

Monday May 27
The Human Rights Network for Journalists in Uganda (HRNJ) gives an ultimatum to Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) and the Police to open the closed media houses immediately or else risk being dragged to court for disrespecting court orders and taking Dembe FM and KFM off air illegally.
Six days into the police siege, and with reports of a flurry of activity behind-the-scenes sweeping across local and the international press, The Observer newspaper carries a revealing account of the government’s apparent wish-list.

Tuesday May 28
The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issues an advisory to its citizens to exercise caution while travelling to Uganda in the wake of the siege of private media houses and the subsequent demonstrations. On the same day the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IRFA) and World Editors Forum in a letter to President Museveni urged the government to respect international obligations on media freedom as it condemns the closure of the Daily Monitor and the Red Pepper newspapers.

The East Africa Law Society (EALS) demands that the government ends the continued siege of independent media houses in the country accusing the police of impunity by failing to respect lawful orders directing them vacate the premises of Monitor Publications Limited. They warn that the closure of private businesses compromises East African Community Investment and integration dividend.

State-owned New Vision publishes a report quoting Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura vowing that his men would remain at MPL premises until the newspaper produced the Sejusa letter. As the international media kept the spotlight on Uganda, the local Human Rights Network for Journalists stages a peaceful protest with journalists carrying a cross and backcloth (traditional items which symbolise mourning). The Observer of May 29 reported how the march, part of a campaign dubbed ‘Walk and Camp at Namuwongo to save the media’ was to show their grief. As expected, the police violently break up the march, arresting three of the organisers.

Thursday May 30
At about 09:48 am, the outgoing Internal Affairs Minister Hillary Onek orders police to immediately vacate Monitor Publications premises. He tells journalists at the government Media Centre that the company that publishes Daily Monitor can resume operations. This comes while the High Court is hearing an application by Monitor Publications Limited that seeks to quash a court order that was issued by the Nakawa Magistrate’s Court.