KAMPALA–Journalists under their rights body, the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda), have petitioned Internal Affairs minister Gen. Jeje Odongo over the continued closure of the Red Pepper publications and detention of its five directors and editors.
HRNJ Uganda team met Odongo and discussed the prospects of releasing the directors and editors of the tabloid newspapers as well as reopening of the publications premises at Namanve, Mukono Municipality.
Since November, the Red Pepper Publications Ltd premises have been besieged and the tabloid’s local radio and website were also shut down.
Last month, Police detained Richard Tusiime, the Managing Director; Rugyendo Arinaitwe, the Editorial Director; Francis Tumusiime, the general manager; Johnson Musinguzi, the Chief Finance Officer and Patrick Mugumya, the Chief Operations officer and James Mujuni, the Chief Commercial Officer.
They were taken to court and are being accused of publishing an article on November 20 2017, pointing at President Yoweri Museveni, his brother Gen. Salim Saleh and security minister Lt. Gen. Tumukunde for plotting to throw the government of Rwanda. This according to charge sheet, the information injured the reputation of the President and Gen. Saleh.
The Buganda Road Chief Magistrate James Eremye Mawanda remanded them to Luzira Prison until Tuesday next week, when it will start to hear its bail application.
Eremye said he needed time to peruse and submissions and review documents in order to make a ruling on the bail application by the incarcerated journalists, after the prosecution led by AbdulSalam Waiswa made objections to their bail application on account that they had been charged with a serious offence of publishing information prejudicial to the national security, among other objections.
State prosecutor Waiswa said the journalists would likely continue offending and endangering national security.
According to the statement HRNJ Uganda sent to PML Daily, Odongo said the investigations into the matter are complete and the jailed journalists would be released soon since their alleged crimes are bailable by the same court.
“Once released, the Red Pepper journalists will have to engage the government on what undertakings should be put in place for the re-opening. They will have to engage the different government departments,” Odongo explained.
Odongo also said the story published by the Red Pepper had an effect on the diplomacy and security standings of the two countries.
Diana Nandudu, the legal officer of HRNJ Uganda, told Odongo during the meeting that the siege, arrest and continued closure of the premises poses a great blow to freedom of expression and media in Uganda as it instills fear within the media practitioners.
In a statement HRNJ Uganda issued, it states that the media rights body told Odongo that continued closure amounts to economic sabotage to the Red Pepper.
The media rights body underscored the need for the media to hold regular meetings with the minister to take stock of developments around the media environment. Responding to their request, the minister agreed to an inaugural meeting with the journalists to take place in February next year.
Currently, there is on growing pressure from different media houses, human rights defenders and civil society groups, demanding Government to release Red Pepper editors and reopened the premises.