Journalist detained; editors to appear in court tomorrow

New York, October 15, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly condemns the Ugandan government’s raid on the Monitor media group, the detention of one of the organization’s reporters, and the charges filed against three Monitor editors.

On October 10, three dozen police officers occupied the newsrooms of the private English-language daily Monitor and its sister station, Radio Monitor, which is headquartered in a suburb of the capital, Kampala. Authorities have accused the two news outlets of supporting “terrorists” by publishing “false news that alarmed the public.”

For five hours police searched the newspaper and the studio, which officials accuse of having ties to the Lord Resistance Army (LRA), an armed rebel group that has, for the last 20 years, called for a Christian fundamentalist republic of Uganda.

According to Ugandan and international news reports, the police raid was prompted by an article in the October 10 edition of the Monitor, which reported that LRA rebels had shot down a Ugandan army helicopter in the northern part of the country. Sourcing its information to unnamed military officials, the paper also published denials from the Ugandan military in the same story. However, police raided the paper’s offices and accused it and its staff of bias in favor of the “terrorist” LRA rebels.

News staffers inside both buildings were not allowed to leave, and no one was allowed to enter while police rummaged through desks, seized cell phones, and conducted body searches of the staff, said eyewitnesses. Officers removed the hard drives from a dozen computers and seized the main office server.

The author of the article, Frank Nyakairu, who was covering the LRA rebellion from the northern town of Gulu, was taken into government custody on October 11. He remains in detention.

Meanwhile, on October 15, the Criminal Investigation Department interrogated three Monitor editors, Charles Onyango-Obbo, Joseph Were, and Wanyama Wangah, and charged them with “publishing articles that are contrary to national security and that give comfort to the enemy” and “publishing false information.” They are scheduled to appear in court on October 16.

The Monitor, Uganda’s most influential daily, has not published since October 10.

“We call for an immediate investigation into the raid, for the release of Frank Nyakairu, and for charges against all Monitor editors to be dropped,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.