Ugandan journalists say their right to protect the identity of their sources is under siege, as police halt work at a number of newspapers and radio stations, demanding the release of a controversial letter.
A police raid at two Ugandan newspapers, The Daily Monitor and Red Pepper, went into a second day on Tuesday ( 21.05.2013) and journalists working for these two dailies were again barred from accessing their offices. Two radio stations have also been taken off the air.
Police say they have court orders to search for a controversial letter authored by the coordinator of intelligence services, four-star General David Sejusa Tinyefuza. This is sought as evidence that General Tinyefuza said that the son of President Yoweri Museveni, Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was being groomed for the presidency. The general allegedly also said there were plans to kill people opposed to this.
On Tuesday morning, the chief executive officer at Red Pepper, Richard Tusiime, stood with fellow journalists outside the printing premises which heavily-armed guards had prevented them from entering.
Tusiime told DW correspondent Leylah Ndinda the purpose of the police actions was not entirely clear.
"When they came here yesterday morning, they said they were looking for a specific press release which General Tinyefuza issued though his lawyers. We gave them that press release but despite our compliance they have stayed around and now we don't know what they want."
The police spokesperson for the Kampala metropolitan district, Ibin Ssekumbi, denied that police had received any letter from Red Pepper.
Leylah Ndinda says the letter from General Tinyefuza was apparently addressed to the director of the country's internal security organization requesting him to investigate allegations that President Museveni was hatching a plan to have his son succeed him. The letter alleges that there are plans by top government members and military officers to assassinate people opposed to what is now popularly known as the "Muhoozi project."
Sixty-nine-year-old President Museveni has been in office since 1986 and there has been speculation for some time over who will succeed him.
Violation of journalistic ethics
Last week, the criminal investigations department interrogated three Daily Monitor journalists demanding they submit an original copy of the letter and explain how they obtained it. The journalists refused, saying by disclosing their sources, they would be acting against the journalistic code of ethics.
Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba gave this version of events.
"The Uganda police on May 15th 2013 received a court order from the chief magistrate's court in Nakawa requiring Daily Monitor journalists to provide the original copy of a letter and other related documents purportedly authored by General David Sejusa and the source of the said missive. Daily Monitor publications were duly served with the court order and confirmed receipt. Though multiple requests were made, the organization has adamantly refused to comply with the court order leading to the issuance of a search warrant by the same Nakawa magistrate's court."
Human rights organisations in the country have expressed concern about the police action. Livingstone Ssewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), told DW "there are more civilized ways of ensuring that information is obtained. Persistent harassment and sealing off offices in itself is not a solution."
Succession debate 'is legitimate'
In an interview with DW's Africalink program, Professor Mwanguhya Bdebesa, a political analyst at Makarere University, said that considering the current president has been in that position for the last 27 years, the issue of political succession is a legitimate issue for debate."
Asked whether there is a general perception that President Museveni is grooming his son, Professor Bdebesa answered in the affirmative. As an indication of this he pointed to Museveni Junior's swift promotion within the military.
Ugandans should be able to discuss the presidency freely, Professor Bdebesa added, not least because "that post has been responsible for political conflict and turmoil." It is legitimate to discuss it "in order to find means of having a peaceful transition."
Despite the growing criticism, Ugandan police say they will continue their occupation of the media houses.