Gunmen torch printing press of Ugandan tabloid

New York, July 1, 2008—Ten to 15 men armed with AK-47 rifles stormed the offices of the Ugandan tabloid daily Red Pepper on Saturday, setting fire to a generator and the printing press, according to news reports and CPJ interviews.

The men, riding in a convoy of five vehicles, carried out a well-orchestrated raid that lasted no more than 15 minutes, Red Pepper Managing Editor Arinaitwe Rugyendo told CPJ today. Four security cameras were destroyed in the attack, but one camera caught the convoy arriving at Red Pepper’s offices in the suburban town of Namanve, just east of Kampala.

Half the roof sheltering the printing press was destroyed and rainwater has entered the room, Rugyendo said. The paper continues to use the press despite the damage, he said.

Red Pepper management suspect the attack was conducted by elements within the security forces, Rugyendo said. Nothing was stolen during the raid. Over the past two weeks, three senior Red Pepper staff members said they were followed by unknown people at night. The paper regularly prints sensitive articles concerning military intelligence Rugyendo told CPJ.

In a statement issued by the paper, Red Pepper management said authorities are not seriously investigating the incident. Local journalists told CPJ that the police did not arrive at the scene until several hours after the attack, and have not asked for a copy of the security camera footage.

Minister of Information Kirunda Kivenjinja visited the Red Pepper office today to inspect the damages. He dismissed the paper’s allegation that the attack was state sponsored. Kivenjinja told CPJ today that a wide range of people could have conducted the attack since the paper was “not professional” and “tread on many people’s toes.”

“We deplore this brazen attempt to silence a media outlet,” said Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Red Pepper has accused the authorities being slow to respond to the attack. The best way for them to counter that charge is to mount a thorough and timely investigation and bring those responsible to justice.”

In April, Ugandan authorities arrested three journalists from the independent weekly, The Independent for an article about an alleged secret government detention center in Uganda.