Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is suing a local media group for reporting a claim that he and his inner circle were vaccinated against COVID-19 weeks before the first doses arrived in the country.
Lawyers representing President Yoweri Museveni said they filed a case against the Daily Monitor after the independent newspaper carried a story first published by The Wall Street Journal with the title: “Members of President Yoweri Museveni’s inner circle were offered vaccines from China state-owned drug maker Sinopharm.”
According to the Wall Street Journal investigation, the offer by the Chinese government was meant to promote their vaccines. Similar offers were also reported in Peru and the Philippines.
The newspaper said in Peru, nearly 500 politically connected people, including then-President Martin Vizcarra, were secretly given the vaccine, which was undergoing clinical trial.
The lawsuit alleges the article published by the Monitor was intentionally reckless, malicious and published without due care.
Museveni’s lawyers said the story presented him as having engaged in the dishonest activities of influence peddling, nepotism, scheming and conspiracy.
They added that the article also portrayed Museveni as having abdicated his duties and obligations to frontline workers fighting COVID-19, and other groups vulnerable to the pandemic.
“That presents him in a very bad light,” said Oscar Kihika, Museveni’s head of legal affairs. “So, he’s praying for damages for defamation.”
Museveni’s lawyers also attached a copy of Twitter messages in response to the article in which different social media users commented on the allegation. One Twitter user Identified as Hotim 3mmy tweeted, “What if I told you the jab also cure corruption and ensure immortality on its recipients.” Mugema Stephen responded, “Few Ugandans would take it then if it cured corruption.”
Museveni attacked the Daily Monitor twice recently, saying it is one of Uganda’s problems. He described the newspaper as evil, irresponsible and needing self-discipline.
Museveni denied the claims in the article and instead warned he would drive the Daily Monitor bankrupt.
“That was before we imported the vaccine,” Museveni said. “Now, Monitor must apologize. In front page. To say that I got vaccinated secretly when my people were still in danger. I only care about myself. Monitor must apologize. Big, big letters. If they don’t, I go for you. And I have already told the lawyers, get massive money from those crooks.”
Daily Monitor managing director Tony Glencross said it is an independent newspaper, free to publish what it believes its audience needs to know, and the paper is preparing a defense.
“In these kind of cases, the court will order that mediation must take place,” he said. “If the mediation is not successful, then we will battle it out in court.”
In their letter acknowledging receipt of the suit, the newspaper’s lawyers said that the words quoted in the suit, even if untrue, cannot pass the test of defamatory publication.
They said that any immunization against a pandemic should be sought by any right-thinking member of society and cannot therefore lower the reputation of anybody.
They added that the president takes precedence over all persons and if he and those close to him are immunized first against a pandemic for the president’s own safety, there cannot be any interference of loss of reputation.
The newspaper has 15 days to file a response.