The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Monitor - Govt Sets Tough Conditions

A government minister has indicated that a decision to reopen Daily Monitor could come sooner if the paper agreed to some tough conditions.

The Observer has learnt that outgoing Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek told Monitor Publications managers during a meeting last Thursday, that they had to agree to conditions or they would remain closed.

It is understood that the government wants the paper to sign an agreement never to write negative stories about the army, the president or his family, including First Son Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba and First Lady Janet Museveni.

It was not immediately clear whether President Museveni endorsed these conditions, which media professionals have described as unacceptable. Although Mr Museveni often attacks the independent media, he is believed to be more tolerant than many of his zealous ministers and army officers.

Police last Monday occupied and has since been searching premises of Monitor and Red Pepper publications and switched off Kfm and Dembe fm radio stations. The police said they were looking for documents related to Gen David Sejusa, the embattled coordinator of intelligence services.

Sejusa recently demanded investigation into an alleged plot to assassinate government officials perceived to be opposed to a possible Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba presidency. It was not clear whether Red Pepper would be subjected to the same conditions.

We have been told that Monitor officials argued that such blanket terms defeated the essence of press freedom and the public's right to know. All the people the minister mentioned are principal actors in the countryís affairs.

Onek is understood to have told the officials that keeping the paper closed was not difficult, because "everybody" in government was tired of them. Confronted with the above version of events, a reticent Alex Asiimwe, the managing director of Daily Monitor, could only confirm a meeting with Onek.

"We had a meeting with the minister, but we don't want to go into details or discuss them in the media," Asiimwe told us on Saturday.

He said the company was working day and night to resume work. Red Pepper was not represented at the meeting.

Meeting IGP:

But as Daily Monitor's negotiations continue, Red Pepper, on the other hand, is trying to talk to police chief Kale Kayihura, who was still reluctant to talk. But Arinaitwe Rugyendo, the Red Pepper's marketing director, said they would demand to know what else the police wanted from them.

"They [police] have told us that they would be searching our machines on Monday [today]. Now, why do you search the machines? We have given them all the documents they asked for, but they still insist on searching. When we meet the IGP, we hope to find out how long the search will continue," he said.

EU speaks:

However, Regional Police Commander Kampala Metropolitan Andrew Felix Kaweesi told journalists last week that the police investigation into Red Pepper has widened to include a series of stories published by the paper in the past, which threatened national security.

The European Union Head of Mission in Uganda and the Norwegian Head of Mission issued a statement last week condemning the media clampdown.

"Following the recent police action, leading to the continuing prevention of the publication of the Daily Monitor and the Red Pepper, and the closure of KFM and Dembe FM radio stations, the EU delegation is deeply concerned about respect for freedom of expression and freedom of the press. A free, independent and vibrant press is essential to a democratic society. These fundamental rights are provided for under the Constitution of Uganda and must be upheld under close scrutiny of the court," the statement reads.

Court option:

As newspapers pursue negotiations, they are also banking on the court process-although this route seems to be time-consuming. Daily Monitor last week filed an application to cancel a court order compelling the publication to avail the original letter that Sejusa wrote. It is due for hearing on Thursday.

But there is also no guarantee that police will respect the courts. Last Wednesday, Daily Monitor secured a court order demanding that the police leave the newspaper's premises but the police surprisingly responded by deploying more personnel and guns.

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