Government threatens to close independent daily

New York, November 15, 2005—The government has threatened to close Uganda’s leading independent daily The Monitor over a story about President Yoweri Museveni’s first choice for army chief. Conrad Nkutu, managing director of The Monitor, told the Committee to Protect Journalists today that the authorities demanded that the paper retract the story and apologize.

Nkutu said that the authorities had also put pressure on the paper through informal channels to fire reporter Andrew Mwenda, who wrote the article which ran on Sunday. “We haven’t been closed down but there’s a threat to close us down,” Nkutu said. He said the paper would not comply with the request to fire Mwenda, a political affairs specialist who already faces criminal charges for a talk show program that led to the closure of Monitor group radio station KFM for a week in August.

Mwenda wrote that President Museveni had first offered the job of defense forces chief to his younger brother Salim Saleh, who declined the offer. The president then chose another candidate. In a statement on Sunday, the government said that the story was “false and an attempt to malign the president.”

Nkutu said that Information Minister James Nsaba Buturo had written to The Monitor on Sunday demanding a retraction and apology otherwise the government would take “other measures.” The Monitor published the government statement in full on Monday, but the authorities did not appear to be satisfied, Nkutu said. He said the paper stood by its story.

In August, Mwenda was imprisoned for a weekend and charged with sedition over a talk show which discussed the July 30 helicopter crash that killed Sudanese Vice President John Garang. For more information see CPJ’s alert:

On November 1, Mwenda pleaded not guilty to a further 13 charges of sedition and “promoting sectarianism” in connection with the same talk show, according to local and international news reports. The magistrate postponed the case until the Constitutional Court rules on a petition filed by Mwenda. The journalist is challenging Uganda’s sedition law on the grounds that it violates constitutional provisions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press.