Second break-in in six months at Ugandan newspaper

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns last weekend’s break-in at the Kampala-based independent newspaper The Observer, the second in six months, and calls on the Ugandan police to shed light on both incidents.

The persons who broke into the offices of The Observer on the night of 31 March took all the computers, hard disks and servers. Nothing is so far known about their identity or motives.

Some 15 computers were taken during the first break-in, on 15 October 2016. That was a week after the newspaper’s editor was summoned before the Parliamentary Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Discipline to explain articles regarded as critical of parliament.

The police opened an investigation into the first break-in but never reported their findings.

“Such repeated attacks on a media outlet cannot remain unpunished,” said Reporters Without Borders . “As well as the financial losses incurred by the newspaper, this fosters a climate of fear and paranoia among the staff. We urge the Ugandan police to shed all possible light on both attacks and to report the findings of the investigation under way since October, in order to clearly show that the authorities are not taking such attacks lightly.”

The latest break-in was more serious than the first. As well as the main newsroom, each individual office was ransacked, including the office of managing director James Tumusiime, and all the computers were taken, including the back-up server. Some of the details of the break-in are not yet clear, but its precision suggests that it might have had inside help.

Despite the loss of all their computers, The Observer’s journalists managed to publish their next issue on schedule yesterday, albeit with some difficulties.

One of its editors, Benon Herbert Oluka, wrote: “I have worked on newspapers during some pretty serious crises. But this is one of the tougher editions of a paper that I have ever been involved in producing. Nothing is going to break our spirit. On Monday your copy of The Observer will be on the streets. Don't miss it!”

Uganda is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.