After two days in detention, police today released on bond the journalists who were allegedly found purchasing and in possession of government drugs.
In a joint night operation on Wednesday February 6, police and its sister agencies arrested three BBC journalists; Kassim Mohammed, Rashid Kaweesa, Godfrey Badebye and their driver Shafiq Kisame in Makindye, a Kampala suburb.
With support from the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and Internal Security Organisation (ISO), the team were driven to Central Police Station (CPS) and detained at around 2am.
The following morning, police also arrested the ministry of health spokesperson, Vivian Nakaliika Serwanjja, also wife to NBS journalist Solomon Serwanjja who was part of the investigation team.
Nakaliika’s arrest followed recovery of 14 boxes of Lumefanite tablets, vaccines for Hepatitis B and other drugs labeled with government seals in their home in Mukono. Serwanjja’s whereabouts then remained unknown then until today when he appeared at CPS around 11am in company of NBS news manager Joyce Bagala to record a statement.
While addressing journalists at CPS, the police spokesman, Fred Enanga, said all the six suspects have been released on bond and charged with illegal possession of classified drugs contrary to Section 27(2) of the National Drug Authority Cap 2016.
The team is expected to report back to CPS after two weeks. Enanga said while police acknowledges the vital role by media in fighting corruption, it ought to follow the law while conducting its duties.
“We are aware of the important role the media plays in investigative reporting, debates, discussion, background and analysis, as well as new stories; not withstanding their journalistic duty to obey the ordinary criminal law, in the course of their duties,” Enanga said.
He added that journalists had successfully carried out similar investigations in hospitals in Arua, Gulu and Kiruddu.
“It is clear that their motive was to show how easy it is for one to buy government drugs and also tried to expose the conduit used in the selling and buying of the drugs by unprofessional medical personnel,” he said.
“As police, we do encourage such documentaries and we want to encourage many others who have an intended motive of exposing targets to expose corruption to carry it on in order to prevent such occurrences in future.”
In a February 7 statement, Next Media Services issued a statement in defense of the journalists noting that NBS in partnership with BBC Africa had commissioned an investigation into the alleged sale of government drugs on the black market.
“The main purpose of the investigation was to cast a spotlight on how alleged corruption is aiding the sale of government drugs. The arrests [of the journalists] come at the conclusion stage of the three-week investigations,” reads the NBS statement.
As investigations continue, Enanga said security currently has scanty information on this case but the exhibits are with CPS, Kampala. A taskforce team has also been created to build on the available facts on file in order to bring suspects that are criminally liable to book.
The taskforce is headed by the CID commandant KMP working with ISO and CMI. They are also supposed to coordinate the investigation with territorial commandants in Gulu and West Nile and Kampala.
On the fate of journalists, Enanga said: “We are working with the office of the directorate of public prosecution for legal guidance on whether the journalists in their journalistic duty and quest for a story of public interest could have breached any rules on the acquisition of government drugs and safety considerations. The DPP will guide us on whether there is an offense or not.”
Below is an abridged transcript from the media briefing addressed by the Police, Fred Enanga, and the Kampala Metropolitan Police (KMP) spokesman Patrick Onyango. All responses below are from Enanga.
The Observer: When and where do we expect these journalists to appear after releasing them on bond? What are the available security guidelines that journalists have to follow while conducting investigative stories?
The bond has been given for two weeks; that is 14 days from today. They will be returning to report before the office investigating this matter here at CPS.
On the guidelines…. In your duties and responsibilities, you are guided by a number of media laws that have been passed by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and media associations and councils. They do guide journalists and I believe that every journalist here knows what to do. Even in your newsrooms, maybe the reminders are not made but you know how you should be conducting your duties while in the field.
SoftPower news: You called upon journalists to work with you in their investigations. Why haven’t you arrested persons that were selling the drugs? Is security covering up for some people?
On the issues parading suspects… based on guidelines given by the Judiciary and office of the DPP, we no longer parade suspects. This is due to complaints of abuse and violence of their human rights.
But like I indicated, we are not blocking the documentary from being released. Next Media and BBC still have the opportunity of going ahead with running the story in any way they want.
So, inside there, it will be possible for them to bring out the abuse in the health sector. We shall use their recording and videos for better investigation and which I believe will be helpful in our work.
The Observer: Are you suggesting that you have confiscated their equipment and footage?
I think you can get in touch with the journalists because there is nothing like confiscation that was done. In an investigation, there is cooperation with the suspects.
If they don’t cooperate, that’s another issue. We are cooperating very well with journalists; they have given us statements which we are planning to build on for further investigation.
NBS TV: Did you arrest people that were selling the drugs? If yes, where are they detained? Where are the exhibits that were found in Solomon Serwanjja’s home?
Now, from the facts on file, what is important is for the task team to come out with their strategy. Sometimes, if you rush into arresting suspects, you lose out on the information.
The team has laid a strategy on how to first build up the facts on file and it is working closely with officials from the ministry of health and the national drug authority.
You will note that it is important to carry out an audit in this investigation and if drugs were serialized, NDA needs to trace the origin of the drugs. In this way, we shall be building a case and not just rushing into the arrest of suspects.
Several Journalists: Why didn’t you arrest people who were selling drugs to journalists?
I request we go slowly. The intelligence team that was informed on this managed to intercept those who were buying the drugs.
We don’t know very clearly the stage at which they were intercepted but it is true they arrested the suspects [journalists] who led them to the recovery of the drugs in Mukono [at Serwanjja’s home].
It is just a matter of building on this information that more suspects can be got. However, we need a forensic audit report on these drugs because the boxes have serial numbers. We don’t want you to believe that there was any bias in these arrests. Investigations are not concluded and we are still building on the facts we have on file to bring culprits to book.
BBC: When did it come to police’s attention that the journalists were following up a certain story? When you found out these were journalists, why didn’t you have a conversation with them rather than detain them for more than 48 hours?
You may not be aware but intelligence is a process until that time when it becomes actionable. There were 14 cartons of drugs that were stored somewhere and police managed to recover them.
You should note that whether you are a foreign or local journalist, you have to work within the law. Now, in most cases, when they are self-styled investigations where media houses create stories of great significance to the public like this one, we need to cooperate.
In today’s meeting, Next Media informed us that there were plans of having a MoU with the Health Monitoring unit at State House to aid the investigation. However, journalists recovered the drugs but went ahead and stored them in their homes.
This process alone of acquiring the drugs where probably you induce or manipulate someone is criminal in itself. It’s all about a journalistic duty on whether your news gathering tactics are within the law. Now, if you were investigating terrorism, would you go and purchase bombs or guns?
If it was sexual violence, are you going to procure defilement by buying someone to defile? It should be a holistic way in which you don’t manipulate people to get something. So, the journalists bypassed the MoU and went ahead to store the drugs which is a very risky thing.
Associated Press: We have seen police use marked currencies to lure suspected persons of corruption?
It is in the methods we use in gathering intelligence. Right now, if we are to arrest those suspects with the money that was used in buying the drugs, then it would be hard. The monies that journalists used were not serialized or marked and thus lose the evidence. The reason why we call for cooperation to ease tracking of suspects.
Daily Monitor: Police said that if journalist is to carry out any investigation, they have to seek clearance and guidance. There are fears that police could tip the persons being investigated most especially “big” government and police officials.
You can worry about an investigation if done solely. This is an investigation comprising police and sister security agencies. This is an issue of public interest and we shall continue to investigate as a taskforce.
The Observer: Upon establishing that the persons you arrested were on an investigation, are you not ashamed about the statement you issued yesterday?
Of course this is a process of investigation. Initially, the investigation team arrested suspects. If you are a journalist, you are not immune from the law. We have arrested journalists in defilement, rape, issues of murder and others. So, if there is a case against journalists, it should not stop us from investigating it.
We are investigating individuals not journalists. You should protect the [journalism] sector by not landing into issues of abuse of the law.