The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' group, today condemned the forced closure of The Monitor, one of Uganda's main independent daily newspapers. Some 50 soldiers, many in uniform and others in civilian dress, occupied the premises of the paper in Kampala late on October 10th and started searching electronic and written material. They ordered staff to leave and disconnected the telephones. Police continue to guard the office and publication of the Monitor has been suspended.
Security forces told Monitor managers that the newspaper was being searched after it published news that an army helicopter involved in the northern Uganda war had crashed. The authorities deny that the crash had happened and want to know who was the source of the information.
"This raid and closure is blow to democracy and press freedom in Uganda," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, "It is intimidation of the worst kind that suggests the authorities are trying to control information and dictate to journalists what they can and cannot do."
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.
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."
"This latest action is evidence that press freedom in Uganda is under greater pressure than ever before," said Aidan White.