KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan police disabled an independent newspaper's printing press after forcibly entering its premises to look for evidence against an army general who recently questioned the president's alleged plan to have his son succeed him, witnesses said Monday.
Alex Asiimwe, the Daily Monitor's managing director, said in a statement that the company was "horrified by this act," and the paper's top editors later issued a joint statement saying press freedom is "under threat" in the East African country. A meeting Monday of the International Press Institute in Amman, Jordan demanded an end to the siege of the newspaper's premises.
About 50 plainclothes police forced their way into the Daily Monitor's premises in the capital, Kampala, and prevented all journalists from leaving, said Henry Ochieng, the newspaper's political editor.
"There are lots of plainclothes individuals inside the premises. You can come in but you can't leave," he said.
News editor Alex Atuhaire said the police presence on the newspaper's premises was "obviously related" to the case against Gen. David Sejusa, who recently wrote to the internal security service asking for an investigation into reports that those opposed to the president's son as a future leader could be assassinated.
Atuhaire said police were treating the newsroom like "a scene of crime."
The Daily Monitor obtained and published Sejusa's letter, which has been dismissed by the army's top leadership as propaganda that undermines unity in the army. Three Daily Monitor journalists have since resisted efforts by the police to have them submit their copy of the letter and to explain how they obtained it.
The Sejusa letter has attracted national attention here because he is the first top official to publicly raise concerns that President Yoweri Museveni, who has held power for nearly three decades, is grooming his son to replace him as president when he retires. The son, a brigadier named Muhoozi Kainerugaba, has been rapidly promoted in the military over the years and now commands the country's special forces. In that position he is in charge of his father's security.
Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba said the police secured a warrant to search the newspaper's premises for Sejusa's letter.
"The journalists had been told to give to the police a certain document but somehow they did not hand it in," she said.
Sejusa, who is traveling in Europe, is under investigation for allegedly violating an official code of conduct. Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, the army's top commander, has said Sejusa's letter "champions the agenda of the radical and anarchic political opposition, hence rendering him partisan."
Sejusa's lawyer, Joseph Luzige, said his client is likely to be arrested when he returns to Uganda, the reason he has chosen to stay away until his legal team prepares for any potential cases against him.
Analysts say Sejusa's letter suggests a power struggle among the military elite as the older generation of army officers gradually loses power to the new guard, of which Kainerugaba is the most prominent member. Sejusa is one of the original bush-war fighters who were at Museveni's side when his rebels took Kampala in 1986.
It remains unclear if Museveni, who was re-elected in 2011, will run again when his term expires in 2016. But he faces growing pressure within his party to retire, with rival centers of power emerging as his power fades. Some say Sejusa, a four-star general who has a history of standing up to Museveni, may be positioning himself to become the leader of those within the military who want to discourage Museveni from hanging onto power or propping up his son as a future leader.
Frank Tumwebaze, a government minister who speaks for Museveni, has said Sejusa has "clear presidential ambitions."
Bernard Tabaire, a media trainer with the Kampala-based African Centre for Media Excellence, said the police's heavy deployment at the Daily Monitor's premises was "an affront on media freedom" that also shows "the regime has been rattled by Sejusa's letter."
Associated Press reporter Jamal Halaby contributed to this report from Amman, Jordan.