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Ugandan Newspaper Reopens After Police Siege

Employees of the Daily Monitor newspaper with their mouths taped shut, sing slogans during a protest against the closure of their premises by the Uganda government, outside their offices in the capital Kampala, Uganda, May 20, 2013.
Reporters returned to work Thursday at Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper, 10 days after being shut down by authorities for publishing a classified document. The tension between the media and the government centers around the president’s alleged succession plans.

On May 20, police cordoned off the Monitor’s offices in Kampala and declared the area a crime scene. Two affiliated radio stations and another newspaper were also shut down.

Officials were searching for a letter allegedly penned by Ugandan General David Sejusa, suggesting President Yoweri Museveni was planning to install his son as his successor.

The letter called for investigations into plans to assassinate officials seen to oppose the president’s plans.

In a statement Thursday, Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek said the cordon was lifted after Monitor editors agreed not to publish stories that “can generate tension.” He also said the newspaper’s management “acknowledged that there had been violations of their editorial policy.”

A senior reporter for the Monitor, Tabu Butigira, defended the newspaper’s reporting, telling VOA the government’s complaint was not about the veracity of the story, but about the content. He said it is not the job of the media to guard information.

“Obviously the responsibility of keeping the government secrets lies with the government and not with the media, so we are not the custodians of the government’s secrets,” said Butigira.

On Tuesday, police fired tear gas and arrested journalists protesting outside the Monitor offices.

Late Thursday, the offices of the Red Pepper newspaper, which also published the controversial letter, were still closed.

Butigira said the media shutdown is about more than just a search for evidence.

“I guess that the government wanted to send a message that it can deal and deal decisively with independent media. I also think, of course, they aimed to get a knock-down effect on the business of the newspaper,” he said.

President Museveni, who has been in office since 1986, is due to step down in 2016. He has made no announcements about his succession plans, but many have speculated that his son’s rapid rise through the military ranks could be an indication he is being groomed for the position.