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Govt to pay Daily Monitor Shs3 billion for 10-day siege over Sejusa letter

Security raided MPL offices in Namuwongo on May 20, 2013 purportedly to search for a missive written by Gen David Sejusa. They ended the siege that had seen MPL sealed off with crime scene tapes on May 30.

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HIGH COURT | The government’s obstinate and total disregard of court orders to reopen Monitor Publications Limited (MPL) offices during a 2013 siege will cost the taxpayers Shs3 billion after court awarded the media house damages.

Justice David Wangutsi, of the Commercial Division of the High Court, on Thursday ordered that MPL is compensated in general andpunitive damages, as well as interest and costs of the suit.

On May 20, 2013, Police raided MPL offices claiming they wanted to search for a dossier authored by then coordinator of intelligence services Gen David Sejusa.

On May 7, Daily Monitor newspaper hit the newsstands with the lead story, “Probe assassination claims, says Tinyefuza.” The story, based on a letter authored by Gen Sejusa, alleged that there was a plot by President Museveni to make his son Brig Muhoozi Keinerugaba (now a General) succeed him to the presidency.

The letter, for which Daily Monitor had got Gen Sejusa on record as admitting to authoring, alleged that there was a plot to bump off top officials in government and the military who were perceived as being opposed to plans to install Muhoozi as his father’s successor.

The article, by reporters Richard Wanambwa and Risdel Kasasira, sparked a chain of events, including the closure of the operations of MPL with Daily Monitor newsroom, KFM and Dembe radio stations that which operate in the same premises all sealed with crime scene tapes.

The Red Pepper has fallen into the same wrath of the state by picking up from Monitor and reporting of alleged fallout among army generals over whether the president’s son was to succeed him in what became widely known as ‘Muhoozi Project.’

Though Police had obtained court permission to search for the dossier within the Monitor offices, they ended up abusing the court order by stretching their stay by four more days, Justice Wangutsi said.

MPL management had also secured a separate court order that Police vacate its premises, but security trashed the order and continued turning the offices upside down until May 30, 2013, when they finally pulled out.

:”This was not only contempt of court, Monitor argues, but the fragrant abuse of the lawful court order, made the media house lose up to more than Shs1.2bn in newspaper sales and adverts,” the judge said.

Bitter-sweet judgement

During the raid, the printing press was not rolling off newspapers nor printing any business for their clients. According to the court documents, Police overstepped the court order by sealing off its premises for ten days instead of retrieving Sejusa’s missive as the order had directed.

MPL lawyers Nangwala, Rezida and Co. Advocates told the court during submissions that their client lost at least Shs1.5 billion during the 10-day siege.

“This court orders the government to pay Monitor Publications Limited Shs945 million as special damages for loss of business during the siege,” Justice Wangutsi said.

“The damages comes with 18% interest from the time the matter was filed in court till payment in full.”

The judge has also awarded MPL Shs200 million in both general and aggravated damages. The figure will earn a 4% interest from August 16, 2018, (judgement day) up to the full payment.

By this order, the State will also meet the taxed legal fees of the two lawyers, James Nangwala and his partner in the trade, Alex Rezida.

The judge also ordered to reimburse all the funds the media house has spent in seeking justice in  confrontation arising out of the publication of an article it argued was done in line with its professional duty to disseminate news and that it offended no law under the code.

The representative of the State did not stay immediately whether they are going to appeal the ruling.

Major victory

The court’s decision will come as a major victory for MPL management and the media fraternity given the reaction from a section of the public and critics after the printing and publishing company’s offices were reopened.

When security agents finally pulled out of MPL and Red Pepper premises, critics claimed that management of the media houses had reached behind-the-curtains agreement with the state.

In its stand after the paper was reopened, Daily Monitor not that there had been plenty of comments in media outlets and the social media regarding alleged concessions it had made to the government to facilitate the reopening.

“While some of these have been fair and near the truth, unfortunately, the majority have been misstatements and falsehoods,” the Monitor commentary said.

“We do believe that these falsehoods have cemented the impression that the MPL caved in to government demands. It is surprising that even some well-respected media observers familiar with the MPL’s editorial policy seem to have accepted these falsehoods.”

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