Ugandan journalists face death, scorn, and harassment

At least two Ugandan journalists have been reported murdered in one week by unknown assailants, causing fear in the media fraternity.

On 15 September, Mr Dickson Ssentongo, a news anchor with Prime Radio was waylaid by unidentified men at Nantabulirirwa village, Mukono district, who reportedly beat him to death.

Ssentongo, 29, had worked as a Luganda news presenter for Prime Radio for two years and as a part-time court assessor for the Mukono High Court, reports say. He also joined active politics and was an aspiring councillor for Nantabulirirwa Parish at Ggoma Sub-County on the Democratic Party ticket. He died at Mulago Hospital where he had been rushed for treatment.

On 12 September, Paul Kiggundu, also a radio journalist working for Top Radio in Rakai district was killed by a mob of bodaboda cyclists while recording scenes of the demolition of the homestead of a suspected robber and murderer in the area. The cyclists pounced on him, beat him and left him for dead as they accused him of spying for police. Mr Kiggundu identified himself as a journalist but he was not spared. He died on the way to hospital.

In a statement released by the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda), the two are the latest victims in a period of less than eight years. In 2004, the statement says, Wilbrod Kasujja, a news anchor at a community radio in Buwama, was murdered, but his killers have never been apprehended.

“As a journalist rights body, HRNJ-Uganda condemns in strongest terms possible this act of people taking the law into their hands,” said Mr Robert Ssempala, Board Chairman for HRNJ-Uganda. “We demand that police should act steadily fast to apprehend and bring all the perpetrators of this mob justice to book.”

International press freedom advocates have also come out to condemn the acts and called upon responsible authorities to hunt for the killers.

The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, said in statement released on 15 September that Kiggundu’s killers should be brought to book quickly.

“I deplore the death of Paul Kiggundu,” she said. “He died in the exercise of his mission as a journalist, covering the news so that the public could be informed. His murder is a tragic illustration of the risks media professionals take every day in the name of freedom of expression. I call on the Ugandan authorities to make every effort to investigate this crime and bring the culprits to justice.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also urged authorities to bring the culprits to justice warning that this is a politically sensitive time as Ugandans get ready for the 2011 general elections.

“Authorities must do their utmost to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice, especially at this politically sensitive time in the lead-up to national elections,” CPJ’s East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes said.
Reporters Without Borders has asked authorities to protect journalists from such heinous acts.

“This incident highlights the frequency to which journalists are exposed to violence because they are on the front line of demonstrations, conflicts or events that get out of control and are seen as unwanted witnesses,” the group said in a statement. “We urge the Ugandan authorities to deal severely with those responsible, so that such incidents do not recur.”
Police are investigating the murders but no arrests have been made yet.

Harassment
In another related incident, last week, a photojournalist was assaulted by a prominent businessman who accused him of taking his picture without his permission. Mr Arthur Kintu, a photographer with The New Vision newspaper was slapped by Mr Hassan Basajjabalaba during the ruling party’s primaries in Wakiso district.

Mr Kintu, who had been accredited to cover the function, said, “I was photographing Basajjabalaba upon learning that he had been re- elected to the post. He angrily charged at me asking who had given me the permission to take his photos. He slapped me twice and boxed me in the face. He shattered my lips and I started bleeding all over,” Kintu said.

It has been reported that the same businessman roughed up Mr Ivan Kalanzi who works for Radio Two (locally known as Akaboozi) two months ago at the Uganda Moslem Supreme Council headquarters at Old Kampala.
Mr Basajjabalaba is scheduled to appear before court on 17 September to answer charges of assaulting Mr Kintu.

Barred

In yet another related incident, on Wednesday morning, a judge banned journalists from covering her sessions, accusing them of stalking her.

The controversial former Inspector General of Government, Justice Faith Mwondha, barred Frank Mugabi and Jackie Nambogga of The New Vision, Aldon Walukamba of Uganda Radio Network and Catherine Asiyo of Kiira FM from entering court.

The judge reportedly said journalists should seek her permission before covering her sessions. “I understand you people are from the media. Why are you following me? I come to court to work and I don’t work through press. I don’t need publicity,” she said. “You should first study judges who want cameras. Go away until my session is over.”

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