Ugandan police should immediately drop their criminal investigation into the Daily Monitor newspaper and guarantee that the media can cover security forces’ alleged misconduct without retaliation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On May 31, the police Criminal Investigations Department summoned Tony Glencross, the managing director of the Daily Monitor’s parent company, Nation Media Group-Uganda, and Tabu Butagira, the group’s managing editor, to record statements as part of a police investigation into allegations of criminal libel, incitement to violence, and false news publication, according to reports by the newspaper and the BBC.
The investigation focuses on a May 31 report by the newspaper detailing the findings of a BBC documentary investigation into the deaths of civilians during election-related protests in November 2020, which the Daily Monitor said vindicated its reporting from early 2021, according to those sources. The BBC report included videos allegedly showing security personnel indiscriminately shooting and killing civilians.
Neither journalist attended the questioning, scheduled for June 2, because Glencross was in COVID-19 quarantine and Butagira was on a field assignment, according to the Daily Monitor’s report. Glencross told the Daily Monitor that they would “obviously comply” with the police summons. Butagira told CPJ via messaging app that they planned to respond to the summons at a later date.
“Instead of thoroughly investigating allegations that security forces killed civilians during protests last year, Ugandan police are targeting the messenger by summoning journalists who have covered such allegations,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities should drop their investigation into the Daily Monitor, which is a transparent attempt to intimidate the paper.”
In a 2000 ruling, Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck the penal code’s false news law; CPJ could not immediately determine how police intended to pursue an investigation under that annulled law. Butagira told CPJ that it was “strange” that police were relying on a “non-existent law” in their case.
Convictions for criminal libel are punishable by up to two years in prison, and incitement convictions can carry jail terms of up to three years, according to the Ugandan penal code.
Police spokesperson Fred Enanga asked CPJ to direct queries to the office of the Inspector General of Police. CPJ tried to reach Inspector General Martins Okoth-Ochola by calling the police headquarters in Kampala; an officer who answered referred CPJ to Ochola’s assistant, Fred Mirondo.
When contacted by CPJ, Mirondo asked that questions be sent over email. In a phone call today, Mirondo acknowledged receipt of that email but referred CPJ to the head of the Criminal Investigations Department, Grace Akullo, for comment.
CPJ repeatedly called Akullo and texted her for comment, but she did not respond.
Separately, Charles Twiine, the spokesperson of the Criminal Investigations Department, told CPJ via messaging application that “being a journalist does not give a ticket to immunity” but did not provide specific comment on the summonses and investigations into the Daily Monitor‘s work.