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Uganda: Red Pepper journalists cry out over closure

Journalists employed by The Pepper Publications Limited, a private media company that publishes the Red Pepper have appealed to government over the recent closure of the media house.

Their appeal comes more than a week since the arrest and detention of eight members of staff, among them directors and journalists over a story they published indicating that President Yoweri Museveni was plotting to overthrow Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.

The eight have since appeared in court where they were charged with publication of a news story prejudicial to national security and publication of a story that defamed President Museveni, his brother Gen Salim Saleh and Security Minister Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde.

They were also charged with the use of the electronic system to publish information that portrayed Museveni, Saleh and Tumukunde as if they are planning to overthrow President of Rwanda Paul Kagame. Prosecutors argue that the report subjected the trio to ridicule, contempt and hatred.

However, the rest of the organization’s staffs say that the publication should be left to continue normal operations, even with the on-going trial of their editors and directors. They say that the closure of the media house threatens the welfare of hundreds of staff members who have been rendered redundant by the action.

Mr Andrew Irumba, one of the journalists attached to the media house says that the shutdown is a violation of the rights of workers at the entire organization. He says many of them are stranded.

“They took all our gadgets, even people who are not concerned about the story. Why don’t they enable us who are not being charged to continue with our work,” Mr Irumba said.

Ms Ritah Namuwulya Lukyamuzi, another journalist says the action has put them in a state of uncertainty since it remains unclear if the paper will be opened in the near future. She fears that many of them could lose their sole source of income.

Their colleague, Ms Prisca Wanyenya, asks that government considers other options of holding the media house accountable than closing it entirely.

But Colonel Shaban Bantariza, the deputy director of Uganda Media Centre says that although government sympathizes with workers of Red Pepper, It cannot stop the law from taking its course.

On Monday, Buganda Road court denied bail to the editors and directors and sent them back to Luzira prison.

It is not the first time Red Pepper is closed. In May 2013, security closed Red Pepper and Daily Monitor offices for nearly a month over a document written by General David Sejusa.

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