Media freedom activists have faulted the High Court deputy registrar, Joy Kabagye, for issuing an injunction stopping media houses and journalists from publishing stories on the investigation into the March 17th murder of police spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi.
Kaweesi, then an assistant inspector general of Police and a spokesperson for the force, was gunned down together with his driver Godfrey Mambewa and bodyguard Kenneth Erau, in Kulambiro a Kampala suburb.
Security agencies including the police, the chieftaincy of military intelligence (CMI) and the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) have since launched joint investigations into the murder.
A month ago, General Kale Kayihura, the Inspector General of Police, petitioned court seeking its orders to stop a section of media houses from publishing the Kaweesi murder investigation stories. Deputy High Court Registrar Joy Kabagye issued an interim order refraining journalists and media houses mentioned in Kayihura's petition from publishing anything to do with the ongoing investigations. The application for an interim order was granted in the presence of the representative of the attorney general only.
The interim order affects The Red Pepper, The Investigator, The Ugandan, Chimp-reports and the owners and reporters working with these media houses.
Media Rights lawyer James Nangwara says the deputy registrar acted irregularly when she granted an interim injunction exparte and without a time frame.
"For a judicial officer to grant an interim injunction exparte, there must be proof of imminent danger if the actions of the other person are not stopped but there was no imminent danger if the media houses continued writing about the investigations," Nangwara told URN.
General Kayihura accused the four media companies of allegedly compromising national security by reporting on the ongoing investigations.
Veteran journalist Haruna Kanaabi says the current injunction will set a wrong precedent on which the judiciary will rely to help government and individuals gag the media.
"Security issues should not be used to gag the media. It's the duty of police and other security agencies to protect information prejudicial to National Security or that which can compromise the ongoing investigations from leaking," Kanaabi says.
Kanaabi adds: "It has started with the IGP. If we don't challenge it, there will be many others."
Despite issuing an injunction against specific media houses and journalists, however, the others have continued to report on the ongoing investigations.
Human Rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi argues that the explanation given by the police through the Attorney General is an excuse to abuse the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
"That the publications are likely to jeopardise investigations is a far-fetched reason because updating people on what is going on cannot jeopardise investigations," Rwakafuzi said in a telephone interview.
Chimpreports and the Investigator plus their proprietors and Editors have already appealed the decision of the deputy registrar to grant the interim injunction.
According to the main application scheduled for hearing on August 18th, the said media houses obtained confidential documents into the murder investigation and national security without clearance from government.
Kayihura seeks a declaration that the publications and intended publications of the defendants are injurious to the investigations underway, national security and prejudicial to the workings of Security Agencies of Uganda.
The application also wants a permanent injunction to refrain all media companies and houses from publishing and using confidential information of government or any other part thereof.
This comes at a time the Uganda Police Force is under the spotlight over claims that the Kaweesi murder suspects were tortured while in custody at Nalufenya Special Detention Facility in Jinja district. One of the now 20 suspects is Geoffrey Byamukama, the Kamwenge Town Council mayor who was recently admitted at Nakasero Hospital with deep cuts on his body.
Besides Byamukama, the other suspects also appeared in court with fresh wounds allegedly sustained during torture at Nalufenya.
On Tuesday, President Museveni weighed in on the issue, writing a letter to his top security chiefs warning against the use of torture. The president said the practice is "unnecessary and wrong and must not be used again". Museveni said torture was wrong because it could lead to innocent people admitting guilt to stop the pain. In the letter addressed to Chief of Defence Forces, General David Muhoozi and IGP Kayihura among others, Museveni said torture is not "consonant with logic."