KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan police arrested at least two activists and used tear gas to disperse others protesting the government's seizure of the newspaper that published an army general's letter about an alleged plot for the president's son to succeed him, a rights group said Tuesday.
The police seized the Daily Monitor's operations nine days ago and said they would leave the newspaper's premises only after getting a copy of the letter in which Gen. David Sejusa urged the internal security service to investigate reports that those opposed to the political rise of President Yoweri Museveni's son risk assassination.
The leader of an activist group that attempted to stage the protest at the newspaper's premises said two of his staff had been arrested by police.
"They have tear-gassed us and they have beaten many of us," said Wokulira Ssebaggala of the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda. "The police have left us with no option but to go and camp (at the newspaper's premises). Our message is that the police are there illegally."
Ssebaggala said he was also briefly detained by police before being freed.
The newspaper has resisted efforts to give a copy of the letter to police who say it's a crucial piece of evidence in ongoing investigations against Sejusa, a four-star general who is accused of talking politics despite rules that bar serving army officers from engaging in partisan activities.
"We shall vacate when we get what we want," police chief Gen. Kale Kayihura told reporters late Monday.
Watchdog groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the police's actions against the newspaper.
"These are acts of impunity," said Livingstone Sewanyana, a Ugandan activist who runs a rights think tank called the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative. "It's part of a worrying trend that all independent voices and alternative views will be silenced."
The daily's printing press was disabled last week.
A lawyer for Sejusa said his client, who was traveling in London when details of his letter were made public, has since canceled a scheduled trip back home and will extend his stay there by at least three months.
Ugandan lawyer Joseph Luzige said Sejusa had asked for —and been granted —the protection of British police after receiving a credible report of a threat to his life. Luzige said on Monday that Sejusa believes Ugandan undercover agents with sinister intentions are trying to locate him. Okello Oryem, Uganda's deputy minister of foreign affairs, said Sejusa's claims of a plot to kill him are "rubbish." British officials said they had no comment on this case.
With Sejusa away, the newspaper that published his concerns has come under pressure to explain how it obtained a copy of the letter that has exposed a rift among the military elite over the first son's growing influence in the army. Museveni, who has held power for nearly three decades, has never said he sees his son as his political heir. But the son, a senior army officer named Muhoozi Kainerugaba, has been rapidly promoted over the years, leading many here into believing he is being groomed for high office. Kainerugaba is now a brigadier with full command of the country's special forces, an elite group within the military that protects the president and guards national assets such as oil fields.
The Sejusa case has riveted many in this East African country that once was prone to violent takeovers of power but which has seen relative stability under Museveni. But the president now faces growing pressure within and outside his party to retire when his current term expires in 2016. Some say Sejusa, a decorated hero of the bush war that brought Museveni to power in 1986, may be positioning himself to become of the leader of those within the military who want to discourage Museveni from hanging onto power.
More than two weeks after Sejusa's letter was leaked, Museveni announced changes in the military that saw the ouster of army chief Gen. Aronda Nyakairima and his deputy. Nyakairima, who had been cited in Sejusa's letter among those opposed to the rise of the first son, was given a civilian post as interior minister. His deputy, Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta, was made an ambassador.