African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has condemned the closure and continued detention of directors and editors of ‘Red Pepper’ daily tabloid.
The organization which focuses on improving media professionalism in Africa described as unreasonable and unjustifiable, the “high handedness” of the state towards the journalists and the closure of Red Pepper and its affiliate outlets.
Eight people including journalists, senior editors and directors of the ‘Red Pepper’ were arrested two weeks ago for publishing a story on November 20, alleging that President Yoweri Museveni was plotting to topple Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame.
The eight have since been sent to Luzira and court is yet to decide on their bail application.
They are charged with publishing information “prejudicial to national security”, and “offensive communication” against Security Minister Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde and Gen Salim Saleh, both of whom the story alleged were part of the plot.
In a statement released on Thursday, Dr Peter Mwesige, the ACME executive director said; “The prolonged detention of the eight and the closure of their business is not only disproportionate to the offences preferred, but also appears to be a calculated ploy to intimidate the Red Pepper and the entire media fraternity in Uganda”.
“These actions have a chilling effect on the exercise of the right to press freedom and the wider rights to freedom of expression and speech, which are guaranteed by the Constitution,” Dr Mwesige added.
The statement by ACME adds that the move against Red Pepper is part of a pattern of state actions geared at silencing dissent and free speech.
“We condemn the criminalisation of publication simply because our leaders or sections of society are not comfortable with the ideas disseminated or that their “peace” will be disturbed.”
ACME says that if a charge such as “offensive communication” is allowed to stand against the individual Red Pepper journalists, it will set a bad precedent and pose a threat to ordinary Ugandans who are increasingly using computer-assisted communication.
“Our defence of Red Pepper is not to endorse its approach to journalism, but rather to highlight what our Supreme Court has called ‘the greater danger of smothering alternative views of fact or opinion’,” the statement read in part.
The Supreme Court once ruled that the great benefit that society derives from the exercise of freedom of expression by citizens justifies the tolerance of that freedom “even in respect of demonstrably untrue and alarming statements rather than to suppress it”.
ACME has urged Ugandan journalists, media owners, civil society actors, politicians and all those who believe in the freedom of speech to stand with Red Pepper.