Uganda police raid private newspaper, arrest four

Editor Alex Lubwaga was arrested with other staffers for criminal libel. (New Vision)

New York, May 25, 2011--Police raided the offices of the independent, Luganda-language weekly, Gwanga, Tuesday, arresting two senior editors and two other staff members on criminal libel charges, local journalists told CPJ. Twelve officers came to their offices in a suburb of the capital, Kampala, arresting Managing Editor Kizito Sserumaga, Coordinating Editor Alex Lubwaga, reporter Patricia Serebe and security guard, James Lukyamuzi. Police released the journalists and their guard from the Old Kampala Police Station at 8:30 p.m. on police bond. They reported back today, local journalists told CPJ.

Police raided the office after receiving a tip off that the weekly planned to publish materials that could lead to riots and further protests, local journalists told CPJ. District Police Commander of the Old Kampala District, Siraji Bakileke, said the police decided to arrest staff at the paper after recovering materials they considered of possible use for inciting citizens to insurrection, according to local reports.

"The police have not provided any solid evidence to justify the raid. The raid and arrests appear to be an intimidation exercise in the hope of censoring the Gwanga newspaper," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "The police must release the four Gwanga newspaper staff and return the office's equipment immediately."

Among the documents the police claimed incited violence included a stack of 70 copies of a newsletter published by Action for Change, a civil society group that helped organize the ongoing protests against high commodity prices in the country. Police accused the Gwanga staff of printing the leaflets but according to Senior Editor Moses Kasibante, the paper does not own a printer. Police have since surrounded the printing press Gwanga newspaper normally uses, local journalists told CPJ. Police also accused the staff of inciting violence by publishing a column that detailed the ongoing economic crisis within the country, Kasibante told CPJ.

Tensions have risen in Uganda since the February 2011 presidential elections, where several opposition parties have organized and staged walk-to-work campaigns, protesting rising fuel prices. Meanwhile, incumbent Museveni has faced mounting criticism from opposition parties for altering the constitution to allow him to run beyond two elected terms. CPJ has monitored numerous cases of authorities cracking down on journalists through harassment, arrests and physical attacks.

In the case of Gwanga, the police, both in uniform and plainclothes, took the central processing unit of the newspaper's computers, Gwanga reporter Mukiibi Sserunjogi told CPJ. Despite the confiscated property and arrest of their senior staff, they still plan to publish an edition for this Thursday, he said. 

In addition, police detained a reporter for the East African broadcaster NTV, Julius Ssenkandiwa, for two hours and confiscated his cell phone and identification, the station reported.  

The Gwanga newspaper, whose name means "nation" in the Luganda language, is considered a mouthpiece for the powerful, central Buganda kingdom, local journalists told CPJ. The raid was potentially motivated by the growing political influence of the Buganda kingdom. The ruling party has often come to loggerheads with the kingdom, which represents the largest ethnic group in Uganda. The paper was launched after the government shuttered a Buganda broadcaster, the Central Broadcasting Service, in September 2009, for nearly fourteen months. Riots broke out between supporters of the Buganda king and the police in September 2009 after authorities blocked the king from visiting a certain constituency, according to international reports.

May 25, 2011 12:37 PM ET |

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