KAMPALA (Reuters) - Ugandan police fired tear gas at journalists in the capital Kampala on Tuesday who were protesting against a media crackdown after press reports sparked a rare public debate on who will succeed aging President Yoweri Museveni.
Authorities in the east African country halted operations at two newspapers and two radio stations on May 20 after they reported a purported plot to assassinate certain people who said that Museveni was grooming his son for power.
Allegations of such a plot were mentioned by General David Sejusa in a private letter that was leaked to The Daily Monitor, the country’s biggest-circulating independent daily, which is owned by Kenya’s Nation Media Group and is one of the newspapers that the authorities closed down.
Police have said they were investigating the alleged assassination plot and that the closure of the newspapers and radio stations was to allow them to search for documents.
Wokulira Ssebaggala, National Coordinator at Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, said about 20 journalists were approaching the premises of the Daily Monitor in Kampala when police officers started firing teargas at them.
“They fired tear gas at us, roughed up some of our members, confiscated a camera from me and arrested two of our colleagues,” Ssebaggala said. “We just wanted to deliver our message to them that they must vacate the premises of these media houses and allow them to reopen.”
Speculation is growing that Museveni, in office since 1986 and one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, is lining up his son to take power at the end of his term in 2016, a move that would likely test the loyalties of Uganda’s ruling elite.
Deputy police spokesman Patrick Onyango told Reuters that police fired the tear gas because they were provoked, and that the two journalists were released after being questioned briefly.
Onyango said the newspapers and radio stations would remain sealed off as crime scenes, even though the Daily Monitor had obtained a court order requiring the police to vacate the premises last week.
“If the management of these media houses want to reopen then they should cooperate and give us the documents we want,” he said.
Western governments and international rights groups have condemned the media crackdown.
Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa and Raissa Kasolowsky