The Uganda Online Media Publishers Association (OMPA) has in the “strongest terms possible” condemned police’s raid on The Pepper Publications Limited, the publishers of Red Pepper and detention of its five directors whom police intend to charge with treason.

“We are very concerned about the unprecedented treason charges preferred against them; treason is a capital offence punishable by death,” said OMPA President Giles Muhame.

“We believe these frivolous charges, at a time when state prosecutors attached to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) are on strike and the consequent indefinite suspension of all criminal sessions by the Judiciary are designed to detain the journalists for longer than necessary,” he added.

Police this week raided the publication after publishing a story quoting a Rwandan newspaper alleging that President Museveni was planning to topple his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame.

Muhame expressed concerned about the confiscation of all the newspaper managers’ “tools of trade, the destruction of their servers as well as the shut-down and disruption of the business- especially at a time when the economy is difficult and unemployment levels are on the rise.”

He emphasised: “We are also concerned that the suspects are being held at the notorious Nalufenya detention centre- a facility that is 70 kilometers away from their families and loved ones and has most recently been flagged as a torture center for suspects.”

Muhame further demanded the detained newspaper editors be brought to competent courts of law and charged accordingly and granted immediate access to their families and loved ones.

He also demanded that the siege on The Red Pepper premises be lifted and the business be allowed to resume, adding that police ceases the persistent mistreatment of journalists all over the country and that those who violate rights of journalists be brought to book. Additionally, those implicated in previous cases of torturing journalists be appropriately punished.

Below is the press statement in full:

ARREST AND ILLEGAL DETENTION OF RED PEPPER JOURNALISTS

The Uganda Online Media Publishers Association (OMPA), notes with concern the recent raid by the Uganda Police of the premises of The Pepper Publications Limited, the arrest of 5 directors and senior editors and the subsequent shutdown and or prevention of publication of their following titles:

The Red Pepper Newspaper

Kamunye News Paper,

Entatsi Weekly News Paper,

Red Pepper –Online.

Their radio station- Juice FM -103.4 has also been taken off air.

While OMPA respects the mandate of the Uganda Police to keep law and order, we are equally concerned and deeply troubled that the 5 directors and three editors are now being 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 a time when the economy is difficult and unemployment levels are on the rise.

We are also concerned that the suspects are being held at the notorious Nalufenya detention centre- a facility that is 70 kilometers away from their families and loved ones and has most recently been flagged as a torture center for suspects.

We are very concerned about the unprecedented treason charges preferred against them; treason is a capital offence punishable by death.

We believe these frivolous charges, at a time when state prosecutors attached to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) are on strike and the consequent indefinite suspension of all criminal sessions by the Judiciary are designed to detain the journalists for longer than necessary.

The arrest and detention of The Red Pepper journalists, comes days after 2 other Journalists and members of OMPA were arrested and detained beyond 48 hours- for over 168 hours, even when the High Court had ordered for their unconditional release.

We wish to protest strongly, this continued inhuman and degrading treatment such as arbitrary deprivation of property and unlawful arrests that sometimes include instances of charges under laws that courts have declared to be inconsistent with the Constitution. There are increasing reports of journalists being denied access to news scenes and their equipment being confiscated, damaged or destroyed by state agencies that should ordinarily be protecting us.

Ultimatum   

Given that our colleagues have already been detained beyond the constitutional 48 hours, OMPA would like to demand that:

Our colleagues be brought to competent courts of law and charged accordingly;

They be granted immediate access to their families and loved ones;

The siege on The Red Pepper premises be lifted and the business be allowed to resume;

That police ceases the persistent mistreatment of journalists all over the country and that those who violate rights of journalists be brought to book;

Additionally, those implicated in previous cases of torturing journalists be appropriately punished.

Should our colleagues not be brought to court today, OMPA will declare a ban on coverage of all police activities and events for a period of 2 months.

We also wish to call upon all other media houses to join this ban as we fight for and defend our right to freedom of expression and the safety of all journalists in Uganda; an attack on one, is an attack on all of us.

In the same strong terms, we wish to call upon all OMPA members and all journalists in the country to observe the key journalism principles i.e. truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity and accountability.

We should all remember that journalism’s first obligation is to the truth, its first loyalty is to citizens and its essence is a discipline of verification.

Giles Muhame

President,

Online Media Publishers Association (OMPA)

C.C

Chairman, Uganda Media Owners Association (UMOA)

Executive Director, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC)

Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC)

Chairman National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)

National Coordinator, Uganda Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ)

Chairperson, Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Uganda (FCAU)