Uganda lifts ban on top newspaper

2013-05-30 16:02
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Journalists protest in Uganda

For more than a week, Ugandans have been protesting the closure of two major newspapers and a radio station by local authorities. Police have used tear gas to break up the protests. See photos from the conflict.

Kampala - Uganda's government ordered police on Thursday to allow journalists back into the main independent newspaper after a 10-day blockade that has sparked widespread criticism, but another paper remains shut.

Police shut down The Daily Monitor and Red Pepper newspapers on May 20 after they reported arguments among army generals over whether the president's son is to succeed him.

They had blocked journalists from publishing while they conducted a search for confidential leaked documents which were quoted.

"The police has called off the cordon of the Monitor premises, so that they resume their normal business as police continue with the search," Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek told reporters, speaking alongside police chief Kale Kayihura.

However, to allow the paper to reopen, Monitor officials have agreed to "tighten their internal editorial" processes, including ensuring stories "that impact especially on national security are subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny and verification process before they run," Onek added.

Observers have warned the police closures - financially crippling to the papers - would lead to greater self-censorship in the future.

The Monitor has also agreed not to publish stories that could "generate tensions, ethnic hatred, cause insecurity or disturb law and order", Onek added.

The closures left only one major operating newspaper, the government-owned New Vision.

Two radio stations in the Monitor offices will also be allowed to resume operation, but Red Pepper remains shuttered for now.

"We shall be meeting the Red Pepper leadership... if they agree that they operate within the law, we have no problem allowing them to re-open," Onek said.

Intimidation and harassment

The closures came after the newspapers in early May printed a leaked confidential memo by a senior general, David Sejusa Tinyefuza, alleging that President Yoweri Museveni was grooming his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba to succeed him.

Tinyefuza said there were plots to assassinate those opposed to the plan, but that claim was criticised by other generals.

Muhoozi, a brigadier who now commands Uganda's special forces, has recently enjoyed rapid promotion through the ranks, although Museveni has made no mention of plans for him to succeed.

The police declared both newspaper offices crime scenes and said they were searching for documents.

"This is what we have been waiting for," the Monitor's managing director Alex Asiimwe said. "After all this time, we are back to operations."

The closures have sparked angry demonstrations by journalists and their supporters, with scuffles breaking out on Tuesday and Wednesday as reporters tried to breach the police cordon, and officers beating them back with batons and firing tear gas.

The United Nations and European Union both condemned the newspaper closures.

"It's disturbing that intimidation and harassment are being used in retaliation against the exercise of freedom of expression," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week.

"Ahead of the 2016 elections, the current events may serve to reinforce self-censorship and severely constrict freedom of opinion and expression at a key moment in Uganda's political development."

Media watchdogs including the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, France-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) and the Foreign Correspondents' Association of Uganda all also condemned the closures.

Read more on:    yoweri museveni  |  uganda  |  east africa

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