I am writing from an “active crime scene” the police tell me. The three pieces of evidence tape and large padlock on the door seem to reinforce their point.
I’ve never reported from an active crime scene before nor witnessed detectives at work. It’s therefore fascinating to watch fifteen plain-clothes police officers sweeping the newsroom of the Daily Monitor in search of a letter written by General David Sejusa.
I’m not sure why the detectives didn’t start searching the editorial section first, since that’s where news stories originate from. Instead, the police first searched the two radio stations, the features and business desks, the administrative and legal departments, IT, and the printing presses. If there were an illicit letter lying around here somewhere, would a journalist really have tossed it under a printing press?
Finally on the third day of the search, the police are now checking the newsroom, slowly sifting through proofs, newspapers, and government reports. They also have two IT guys, who look to be in their early twenties, searching 50+ computers.
At this rate, it will take an entire day to search the newsroom. After that, the investigators will move to the other side of the compound to search the sports desk, human resources, and finance. That might take another day or two—or even a couple of weeks as one police officer boasted.
I overheard the head officer on the phone a few minutes ago, apparently talking to someone from the Monitor. “Just give me the document we’re looking for and we will leave this place right now,” he said.
Even this officer knows that a document isn’t here. But as long as Monitor Publications refuses to bow to government pressure and reveal their source, they will continue paying the financial consequences.
The police finished searching the two radio stations yesterday, but they are still off the air, losing millions of shillings per day in lost advertising revenue. There seems to be no other reason for keeping the stations closed except to inflict pain on this media house.
Fifteen kilometers away, the police are also still searching the premises of the Red Pepper. When the police first raided their offices and those of the Monitor, members of civil society rushed to the media houses to protest this violation of media freedom. Pictures from their demonstration have made their point in the international media, but the protesters haven’t been seen since they were dispersed with tear gas two days ago.
As civil society tries to vocalize support for press freedom, President Museveni is talking about land issues right now on CBS radio—ignoring this saga completely. Even if the presenters there wanted to ask him about press freedom, however, they risk walking down a slippery road that they’ve fallen on before. In 2009, CBS radio was shut down for over a year for “inciting violence” during the Buganda riots.
No one knows yet how long the police will continue searching the Monitor and Red Pepper or for how long they will keep KFM and Dembe radio stations off the air.
For now, the detectives are searching the crime scene with the speed and precision of an elephant. When one plain-clothes police officer pulled out a video camera and started filming, another yelled at him: “Hey you, stop filming! Who gave you permission to film our work?”
The man with the camera looked puzzled. Then another cop said, “I think he’s one of us.”
“Oh, okay,” the angry detective said. “I thought you were one of these journalists.”
I guess that’s why I don’t have any of my own photos accompanying today’s post. Sorry about that!