On 16 October 2017, Daily Monitor Executive Editor, Charles Odoobo Bichachi and Red Pepper Deputy News Editor Kintu Richard were quizzed for over three hours each. They were both charged with ‘Offensive Communication/ Libel’ and a General Inquiries File was opened.
Daily Monitor lawyer James Nangwara described the charges as “malicious only meant to put the media off track” while the Red Pepper Legal Officer Byamukama Dickens told HRNJ-Uganda that the charges were baseless and only meant to harass the media.
Editors Bichachi and Kintu defended their stories as factual and they are committed to continue reporting about the Age Limit debate for the benefit of their readers and the citizens at large.
The Daily Monitor story in question was published on 12 October 2017 under the headline: Age limit budget for 23-man team leaks. Bichachi was told that Magyezi and other nine (9) members of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee who were not disclosed were the complainants.
The summons signed by Isaac Oketcho on behalf of the Director Criminal Investigations reads in part that [CID] received a complaint from the architect of the controversial Constitutional (Amendments) Bill, 2017, Raphael Magyezi, the MP for Igara West constituency about the said news stories by both Daily Monitor and Red Pepper. The controversial ‘Age Limit Bill’ seeks to amend Article 102 (b) to remove the age caps for presidency. It was recently tabled amid severe protests from MPs across the political divide. Before its tabling, security operatives stormed the Parliamentary Chambers and evicted most of the MPs opposed to the lifting of the presidential age limit.
Kintu and Bichachi were released on bond and required to report back on 18 October 2017 at 10:00am local time.
The Age Limit controversy has seen offices of two CSOs offices taken siege and searched, a media coverage ban, and over twenty-five CSOs asked to surrender details of their work and money sources to the State.
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is concerned over the current harassment of the media. “The course of events is not healthy for the media. You can clearly see that the media has fallen victim to the coercive functions of the State. Its actions are intended to intimidate the media [and prevent them] from freely discussing the age limit controversy. The media should be left to freely do its work,” said the HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala.