An estimated 50 soldiers, some in uniform and others in civilian dress, occupied the premises of the Monitor in Kampala late on Oct.10 and started searching electronic and written material. They ordered staff to leave and disconnected the telephones. At present, police continue to guard the office and the Monitor has not been published today.
Security forces told Monitor managers that the newspaper was being searched because it had published news that an army helicopter involved in the northern Uganda war had crashed. The authorities denied that the crash had happened.
“Just when independent reporting is most necessary—in war time—the Ugandan government has silenced one of the country’s most respected journals,” said Juliane Kippenberg, researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “This is a blatant attack on freedom of the press.”
In May, a draconian anti-terrorism law came into force providing a possible death sentence for anyone publishing news “likely to promote terrorism.” Terrorism is broadly defined as the “use of violence or threat of violence with intent to promote or achieve political, religious, economic, and cultural or social ends in an unlawful manner.” It is not known if the government intends to make the Monitor its first test case under the new law.
The war in northern Uganda, involving government forces and the insurgent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has escalated dramatically in recent months. Large numbers of civilians have been killed, and tens of thousands were ordered by the army to leave their homes last week.