The Uganda Online Media Publishers Association (OMPA) is concerned about the recent raid on Red Pepper Publications Limited by security agents, detaining of five directors and three senior editors of the publication and subsequent closure of The Red Pepper, Kamunye and Entatsi newspapers as well as the RedPepper–On line publication. Their radio station, JuiceFM-103.4 has also been taken off air.
Five Red Pepper directors were arrested including – Arinaitwe Rugyendo, the editorial director; Richard Tusiime, the managing director and the editors- Ben Byarabaha; Tumusiime Tinywana and Richard Kintu, among others.The editors and directors were charged with misprision of treason.
While OMPA respects the mandate of the Police, Giles Muhame, the association’s president, said they are equally concerned and deeply troubled that the journalists have been detained beyond the Constitutional 48 hours.
“We are also concerned by the confiscation of all their tools of trade, the destruction of their servers as well as the shut down and disruption of the business, especially at the time when economy is difficult and unemployment levels are on the rise,” Muhame explained.
OMPA is also concerned that the suspects are being held at the notorious Nalufenya detention centre, a facility that is 70 km away from their families and loved ones.
“We are very concerned about the unprecedented treason charge against them. Treason is a capital offence that attracts a death sentence on conviction,” Muhame said.
Sources close to the ongoing interrogation of the editors currently jailed at police detention facility at Nalufenya, Jinja told PML Daily that the tabloid newspaper bosses, arrested on Tuesday evening have also been charged with terrorism and disturbing the peace of Gen. Salim Saleh, and security Minister Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde.
Senior Superintendent of Police Mark Odong is leading a team of detectives who recorded statements from the detained directors and editors on Wednesday night after a whole day search of their offices and cars.
“We don’t know when we shall be produced in court because we are still here,” one of the directors told PML Daily in confidentiality.
Police on Tuesday closed down Uganda’s popular tabloid premises in Namanve, declaring it a scene of crime.
Police spokesman Emilian Kayima said the police will remain at the premises until they finish investigations in relation to a story that the newspaper published, saying Uganda was training Rwanda rebels to topple the government of President Kagame.
The police say the story was prejudicial to national and regional security.
Human Rights organizations however have criticised the police for criminalizing journalism work.