May 22, 2013

Minister Onek Denies Closure of Media Houses

The Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek has explained to parliament that Daily Monitor and Red Pepper Publications, which are under police siege, have not been closed but they were asked to halt their operations to allow police to conduct a search in their premises.

Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek
Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek

Onek made this remark on Wednesday while delivering a statement to parliament on the ongoing police siege of Daily Monitor and Red Pepper Publications. It came after MPs demanded for an explanation from government on why the Daily Monitor, its sister Radio stations KFM and Dembe FM and Red Pepper publications were shut down.

On Monday, police raided Daily Monitor and Red Pepper publications allegedly to conduct a search for a letter, in which General David Ssejusa alias Tinyefuza calls for investigations into a plot to bump off senior army officers and politicians opposed to attempts by President Yoweri Museveni to have his son Brigadier Kainerugaba Muhoozi replace him. Judith Nabakooba, the police spokesperson issued a statement later saying they will not leave the premises until they get General Ssejusa’s letter. On Thursday, Onek briefed parliament on the events leading to the siege of both media houses, but insisted that they have not been closed.

Onek said that police secured a court order to search the media houses which begun on 20th of May, after they declined to give police Ssejusa’s letter. He explained that from the time police embarked on the search, the premises were declared a scene of crime under the custody of police in accordance with the law. Onek explained that consequently the staff was asked to temporary stop operations so that routine activities and traffic in the premises associated with their business do not interfere with police work. He also said this was not the first time police was carrying out a search, since they earlier on conducted a search in the offices of General Sejusa in the presence of his lawyers without any incident and the premises remain a scene of crime.

Onek said it is therefore surprising for anybody to make issue of a routine procedure in the investigations when it comes to media houses. He questioned whether media house are governed by laws other than those that govern the rest of society. He quotes the Press and Journalist Act section 2 which provides for the right to publish a newspaper, but said that it was not absolute. However, some of members of Parliament expressed dissatisfaction with the minister’s statement saying it didn’t answer the fundamental question on whether the search warrant permitted police to stop operations of the media house.

Betty Among, Oyam South MP demanded that Onek explain the other documents that police is searching for apart from the letter that they started with. Odongo Otto, the Aruu County then moved a motion that the discussion on the matter be suspended until the search warrant is brought before Parliament.

Onek said he had asked James Baba the state minister for internal affairs to go and get the search warrant.  Jacob Oulanya, the Deputy speaker of parliament adjourned the house to allow the minister to present the search warrant.

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