Kampala - Uganda's government ordered police on Thursday to
allow journalists back into the main independent newspaper after a 10-day
blockade that has sparked widespread criticism, but another paper remains shut.
Police shut down The Daily Monitor and Red Pepper newspapers
on May 20 after they reported arguments among army generals over whether the
president's son is to succeed him.
They had blocked journalists from publishing while they
conducted a search for confidential leaked documents which were quoted.
"The police has called off the cordon of the Monitor
premises, so that they resume their normal business as police continue with the
search," Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek told reporters, speaking
alongside police chief Kale Kayihura.
However, to allow the paper to reopen, Monitor officials
have agreed to "tighten their internal editorial" processes,
including ensuring stories "that impact especially on national security
are subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny and verification process before
they run," Onek added.
Observers have warned the police closures - financially
crippling to the papers - would lead to greater self-censorship in the future.
The Monitor has also agreed not to publish stories that
could "generate tensions, ethnic hatred, cause insecurity or disturb law
and order", Onek added.
The closures left only one major operating newspaper, the
government-owned New Vision.
Two radio stations in the Monitor offices will also be
allowed to resume operation, but Red Pepper remains shuttered for now.
"We shall be meeting the Red Pepper leadership... if
they agree that they operate within the law, we have no problem allowing them
to re-open," Onek said.
Intimidation and harassment
The closures came after the newspapers in early May printed
a leaked confidential memo by a senior general, David Sejusa Tinyefuza,
alleging that President Yoweri Museveni was grooming his son Muhoozi
Kainerugaba to succeed him.
Tinyefuza said there were plots to assassinate those opposed
to the plan, but that claim was criticised by other generals.
Muhoozi, a brigadier who now commands Uganda's special
forces, has recently enjoyed rapid promotion through the ranks, although
Museveni has made no mention of plans for him to succeed.
The police declared both newspaper offices crime scenes and
said they were searching for documents.
"This is what we have been waiting for," the
Monitor's managing director Alex Asiimwe said. "After all this time, we
are back to operations."
The closures have sparked angry demonstrations by
journalists and their supporters, with scuffles breaking out on Tuesday and
Wednesday as reporters tried to breach the police cordon, and officers beating
them back with batons and firing tear gas.
The United Nations and European Union both condemned the
"It's disturbing that intimidation and harassment are
being used in retaliation against the exercise of freedom of expression,"
the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week.
"Ahead of the 2016 elections, the current events may
serve to reinforce self-censorship and severely constrict freedom of opinion
and expression at a key moment in Uganda's political development."
Media watchdogs including the US-based Committee to Protect
Journalists, France-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders)
and the Foreign Correspondents' Association of Uganda all also condemned the