Uganda police say raid newspaper, detain staff over article about president

FILE PHOTO: Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni talks to the media after casting his ballot at a polling centre in Kaaro High School in Rushere
FILE PHOTO: Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni talks to the media after casting his ballot at a polling centre in Kaaro High School in Rushere, Kiruhura district, west of Kampala, Uganda February 18, 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya/File Photo

November 22, 2017

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Ugandan police raided the office of a local newspaper, detaining staff and confiscating equipment on allegations it had published an inaccurate story, the paper’s lawyer and police said on Wednesday.

The day before the Tuesday evening raid, Red Pepper, Uganda’s leading tabloid, published a story alleging that Rwanda believed President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda was plotting to oust President Paul Kagame. The article cited unnamed sources.

The government said there were no tensions between Uganda and Rwanda.

Police spokesman Emirian Kayima said eight managers and editors at the newspaper’s Kampala head office were detained after police searched the paper’s Kampala office and confiscated computers and mobile phones.

Kayima said the eight staff were being held at a detention facility in eastern Uganda and would appear in court when investigations were complete.

He said the story contained “serious statements and insinuations…that have grave implications on national and regional security and stability.”

The paper’s lawyer Maxma Mutabingwa said uniformed police told Red Pepper staff during the search that they wanted “material and information on a story published on Monday”. He said some managers’ homes were also searched but gave no details.

Red Pepper was not published on Wednesday and staff had not been allowed to access the offices since the raid, Mutabingwa said.

Human rights groups say harassment of independent media by security personnel has been escalating in the East African country where Museveni, 73, has ruled for 31 years.

Local media including Red Pepper have reported this month on tensions between Uganda and neighboring Rwanda over a range of economic and security disputes.

“There’s no tension between Uganda and Rwanda…we have no problem at all (with Rwanda),” Uganda’s foreign affairs ministry spokeswoman, Margaret Kafeero, told Reuters.

She said Uganda had not received any official complaint from Rwanda regarding any allegations of a plot against Kagame and that the reports in Ugandan media were “rumors”.

Relations between the two countries are often complicated by a shared history which has by turns been a source of mutual suspicion and amity.

Kagame, the Rwandan leader, grew up as a refugee in Uganda and also occupied a top position in the Ugandan army after serving in the guerrilla movement that helped Museveni take power in 1986.

The Rwandan leader launched his own rebellion from Uganda that ushered him into power and halted a genocide in Rwanda in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Maggie Fick and Ralph Boulton)