Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s threat to bankrupt his country’s leading daily newspaper by means of a lawsuit is unworthy of a head of state, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says, calling on him to respect press freedom in Uganda.

Speaking on International Women’s Day (8 March), the country’s president for the past 34 years said he was bringing a legal action against the Daily Monitor for reporting that the Wall Street Journalhad said his “inner circle” was given Chinese-made vaccines against Covid-19 ahead of other people in Uganda.

“Monitor, I’m going to make you bankrupt,” Museveni said, adding that he would go ahead with the threatened lawsuit unless the newspaper’s journalists “apologise and lie down and say sorry, sorry.”

When reached by RSF, one the Daily Monitor’s editors confirmed that the president’s lawyers have written to the newspaper to notify it of their client’s intention to bring a legal action against the paper.

“The threats against this newspaper are dangerous and unworthy of a head of state,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “These comments are all the more worrying for being made in a very agitated post-election context in which media and journalists have not been spared.”

Museveni was reelected for a sixth term in January after an election campaign marked by many cases of violence and intense harassment of the media. RSF has registered nearly 40 attacks against journalists since last November, including 21 physical attacks and eight arrests.

The president often lambasts and threatens independent media and his favourite targets include the Daily Monitor, which he frequently calls an enemy of the state. In 2018, he described the newspaper as“evil” and threatened to “do something about it” if its journalists kept criticising Uganda’s growing debt.

RSF has learned that the Daily Monitor’s leading shareholder has also been harassed and threatened, and has been told that some of his other business interests could be in danger if the newspaper’s editorial line does not change.

Uganda has fallen 28 places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index since 2015 and is now ranked 125th out of 180 countries.