Ugandan authorities must make every effort to secure the safe release of Charles Etukuri, an investigative journalist for the state-owned New Visionnewspaper, the Committee to Protect Journalists said . Five unidentified men dressed in military camouflage seized Etukuri outside the newspaper’s office in Kampala on 13 February, days after he published an investigation into the murder of a foreign national in Uganda, the paper’s editor John Kakande and the Independent Media Council of Uganda executive secretary, Haruna Kanaabi, told CPJ.
Several eyewitnesses, including two New Vision employees, reported that the men were waiting in a white car and forced Etukuri into the vehicle when he left the building for lunch at approximately 2 p.m., said Kakande.
Soon after, Etukuri called his supervisor, who CPJ has not named for safety reasons, to say that he was “safe,” and that the seizure was related to his recent articles, Kakande told CPJ. The journalist has been unreachable since this phone call, according to the paper’s editor.
New Vision‘s management yesterday reported Etukuri’s disappearance to police as a kidnapping, Kakande said.
“Ugandan authorities should immediately produce Charles Etukuri unharmed or prosecute those responsible for his disappearance,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, from New York. “Any impunity will simply result in further self-censorship and intimidation of the press in Uganda.”
Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima on Tuesday told CPJ that the journalist was not in police custody and that they would investigate the case. Kayima was not reachable on his cellphone on Wednesday and did not immediately respond to text messages from CPJ.
The military, through spokesperson Richard Karemire, said that it had no knowledge of Etukuri’s case beyond the reports published by the media. The head of the Internal Security Organization (ISO), Frank Bagyenda Kaka, said he could not comment on the case and referred CPJ to security minister Henry Tumukunde who was not reachable on his cellphone Wednesday afternoon.
In a story published online, the New Vision says that it suspects that the journalist was targeted in retaliation for two articles published on Saturday and Sunday linking agents from the ISO and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) to the death of a Finnish businessman in a local hotel.
Etukuri’s case comes amid increasing tensions between different government security agencies over their jurisdictions, according to media reports.
Etukuri is close to the leadership of the police, according to a report by The Observer and two Ugandan journalists who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Conditions for the press in Uganda have deteriorated and over the last two years CPJ has documented cases of the government shuttering newspapers, arbitrary arrests of journalists, and a partial internet shutdown. Uganda was the third worst jailer of journalists in Africa as of December 1, according to CPJ’s 2017 census of imprisoned journalists.