World Association of News Publishers


Red Pepper Journalists Released and Offices Set to Reopen

Red Pepper Journalists Released and Offices Set to Reopen

Article ID:

21592

After an intense campaign to free eight Red Pepper journalists and senior executives, Uganda’s MFC saw the fruits of its labor. On 19 December, a judge granted bail to all eight, who had been held at the high-security Nalufenya detention centre since 21 November. And after two months of police siege, the Red Pepper offices have finally reopened.

By Colette Davidson

After two months of their offices being closed, Red Pepper journalists can finally expect to go back to work. In late January, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni pardoned Red Pepper directors and senior editors, promising to reopen the office in Namanve, Mukono District. Police officers have since been ordered to vacate the site as the process gets underway to formally reopen the newspaper’s headquarters.

The news comes after a month-long campaign by WAN-IFRA’s Media Freedom Committee and Uganda’s Press Freedom Network to free the eight Red Pepper staff, who had been held since 21 November following the publication of a 20 November story which claimed Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was plotting against his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame. On 19 December, activists saw the fruits of their labor when the eight employees were released on bail.

“Our campaign to get as many articles out discussing the issues and asking for the release of the Red Pepper journalists and editors was, I believe, helpful as it managed to keep the debate alive in public,” says Carol Beyanga, Chair of the Uganda MFC. “The letter we wrote and circulated on various platforms also allowed others apart from journalists to understand the issues at hand and why they too should be concerned by the closure of the publication.”

Beyanga says that she and her fellow press freedom fighters are happy that the Red Pepper journalists have been freed on bail, as concern was growing about how long the investigation was taking and the fact that journalists could not return to work.

The Red Pepper office has been closed since 21 November when it was raided by police officers, who confiscated laptops, desktop computers and other documents in addition to arresting the eight staff members. Investigators say they were looking into whether the paper published information that threatened the security of Uganda’s government. Since then, the offices had been sealed off by security forces and treated as a crime scene as investigations continue.

The closure of Red Pepper was condemned by press freedom organisations as well as the national coordinator for the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, Robert Ssempala. But it is not the only publication in Uganda to face recent restrictions. In October, the Uganda Communications Commission temporarily shut down Kanungu Broadcasting Services and Radio Kitara, and threatened to shut down Pearl FM.

The publications were targeted after the content of their broadcasting was viewed as going against the government’s recent amendment to age limits, which would lift the age limit requirement on presidents and open the door to indefinite presidential terms.

“These and other events show the worrying trend of the curtailing of press freedom in Uganda,” says Beyanga.

Red Pepper journalists can finally take a sigh of relief following the president’s promise to reopen the newspaper offices. And press freedom activists say they feel vindicated that all their hard work has paid off. The campaign to free Red Pepper journalists showed a renewed interest by not only the journalism community but the public at large to care about press freedom issues in the country. And it has encouraged others to publish articles and run programmes about the importance of media freedom.

“Many journalists are not sitting back, but are making their voice heard over these issues,” says Beyanga. “There is still a long way to go but I believe this shows there is hope.”

Author

Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop

Date

2018-01-29 10:20

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Daily Monitor (Uganda) reports that eight Red Pepper editors and senior managers arrested in November - on charges including publication of information prejudicial to security, libel and offensive communication - have been granted bail pending further judicial proceedings.

Author

Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop

Date

2017-12-20 12:42

Author

Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop

Date

2017-12-04 11:50