Nairobi — Ugandan authorities should immediately release eight employees of the national newspaper Red Pepper who are being held in government detention without charge, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Ugandan police on November 21 arrested three editors, the chief executive officer, and four senior managers from Red Pepper after authorities raided the newspaper's office in Kampala on allegations that the paper had published a controversial story, according to media reports and Uganda's police spokesperson Emilian Kayima.
Ugandan authorities have not formally charged the editors and managers.
In a press statement published on November 21, Kayima said that "initial investigations were being carried out under" section 37 of Uganda's penal code that provides for sentences of up to seven years for people who published material "likely to disrupt public order and security." However, the police said that they have not ruled out charging the detained editors and managers with other offences.
During the raid on Red Pepper's office, police confiscated employees' phones and computers, according to a report from the privately owned Daily Monitor newspaper. Red Pepper's lawyer, Maxma Mutabingwa, told Reuters news agency that police also searched the homes of some of the staff.
The arrests and raid came after Red Pepper published an article on November 20, which stated that Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni was planning to overthrow Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. According to Reuters, the article cited unnamed sources.
In a statement published on November 20, the Ugandan Foreign Ministry accused Red Pepper of reproducing a "malicious article." According to Reuters, newspapers in Uganda have recently reported on tensions between Uganda and Rwanda.
"Uganda is trying to intimidate Red Pepper journalists and staff into silence with arrests and raids," said CPJ Africa program coordinator, Angela Quintal from New York. "Reporting on politics is not a crime. Journalists in Uganda must be able to report without fear of retaliation. We call on the Ugandan authorities to immediately release the Red Pepper editors and managers."
Kayima told CPJ in a telephone conversation that it was not clear when the arrested Red Pepper staff members would be charged.
The Daily Monitor reported that the arrested are editors Ben Byarabaha, Richard Kintu, and Tumusiime Francis Tinywana. Authorities are also holding Red Pepper's chief executive officer, Richard Tusiime, alongside senior managers Patrick Mugumya, Arinaitwe Rugyendo, James Mujuni, and Johnson Musinguzi Byarabaha.
Police are holding the editors and managers in Nalufenya Detention center in Jinja, a town in eastern Uganda, according to Kayima.
Red Pepper has previously drawn the ire of Ugandan authorities. In June, police interrogated the newspaper's editor Ben Byarabaha on allegations of offensive communications, and in October police questioned editors from the paper on similar charges.