Eight editors and directors of Uganda’s Redpepper have been charged with “treason” over an article implicating President Yoweri Museveni in a plot to overthrow his Rwandan counterpart, a defence lawyer said on Thursday.
The eight men were arrested on Tuesday during a police raid on the offices of the privately owned English-language Red Pepper and its local-language sister publications.
On Wednesday the treason charge, which carries a possible seven-year jail term, was lodged against them.
The controversial article, published on Monday, citing unnamed sources, said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was planning to overthrow Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The suspects are being held at the Nalufenya prison outside the capital Kampala.
Among those being held is Red Pepper’s CEO Richard Tusiime as well as chief editors and the financial director of the group.
Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima confirmed the charges, without giving details; on Wednesday he had said the article was false and a threat to regional security.
On Thursday, for the second day running, Pepper Publications tabloids were absent from newsstands.
Byamukama said the newspaper’s offices had been sealed up and phones, laptops and other equipment confiscated.
Police raided the Kampala offices of the privately owned English-language newspaper late Tuesday and detained the journalists, whom they accused of publishing a false story the previous day.
Besides treason, the journalists were charged with “offensive communication and publication of information prejudicial to national security,” police spokesman Emilian Kayima told Reuters.
Kayima couldn’t say when the journalists would appear in court.
The U.S. media watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Uganda to immediately release the eight.
“Uganda is trying to intimidate Red Pepper journalists and staff into silence with arrests and raids,” Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa program coordinator, said from New York. “Reporting on politics is not a crime. Journalists in Uganda must be able to report without fear of retaliation.”
Local media, including Red Pepper, have reported this month on tensions between Uganda and neighboring Rwanda over a range of economic and security disputes. Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has dismissed the reports as rumors and insisted relations between the two countries are untroubled.