Ugandan journalists face libel charges


Uganda charged eight managers and editors of a daily newspaper with offences including libel and computer misuse and a court ordered them detained until December 5.

The journalists have been in detention for nearly a week after police raided the premises of Red Pepper accusing them of publishing a false story.

Police said on November 23 they preferred several charges including treason against the journalists. Their lawyer, Maxma Mutabingwa, said when they appeared in court for the first time on Monday, treason was not among offences read out to them.

Instead they were charged with several counts of libel, offensive communication and publication of information prejudicial to security.
“I think police backed off the treason charge because it was ridiculous, it was not sustainable at all,” he told Reuters.

The journalists applied for bail but the state prosecutor said he needed time to respond and court adjourned to December 5.

The raid on the paper followed publication of a story that, citing unnamed sources, said Rwanda believed Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was plotting to oust its leader, Paul Kagame.

The paper has a wide readership and often publishes salacious content about the private lives of political and business officials and celebrities.

In recent years it moved to include more political coverage and has irked authorities with audacious headlines on security, diplomacy and power manoeuvres in the government of President Yoweri Museveni.

Police kept the media outlet’s premises cordoned off. It has not published since the raid. Computers, phones and other equipment confiscated during the search have also not been returned, Mutabingwa said.

Rights groups and journalists complain of escalating harassment and intimidation of independent media by security personnel in the East African country as Museveni faces growing opposition pressure to end his rule.

Local media, including Red Pepper, reported this month on tensions between Uganda and neighbouring Rwanda over a range of economic and security disputes but Uganda’s foreign affairs ministry dismissed the reports as rumours.