Over a dozen local and foreign journalists in Uganda were attacked by security and military personnel while covering the return of opposition leader, Kizza Besigye on Thursday, May 12.
Since the beginning of the Walk to Work protests which were initiated by opposition in reaction to increased prices of food and fuel three weeks ago, journalists have become victims of police brutality as they cover protesters.
According to the Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ), “more than a dozen journalists have been physically attacked including being shot, intimidated, arbitrarily arrested and detained, restrictions imposed on their movements and assaulted since the ‘Walk to Work’ campaign begun.”
The journalists have also had their equipment including cameras and notebooks confiscated by the military and police officers.
In retaliation, the journalists have agreed to boycott coverage of government activities until an apology is issued.
A statement released by HRNJ said the unanimously resolved to “blackout all press conferences at government manned Uganda Media Center, activities of the police and the Uganda People’s Defence Force.” Uganda Media Center is the government’s mouthpiece and organizes press conferences for all government departments.
“Journalists are set to petition president Museveni on Monday May 16, demanding for immediate release of all journalists’ tools of trade and replacement of all damaged equipments,” the statement reads.
Other demands include;
– Immediate investigation and prosecution of errant officers both in military police, Uganda Police Force and other security agencies
– An apology to the media fraternity and members of the public whose right to be informed and to know were infringed upon.
– An assurance from government that press freedom and freedom of expression will be enjoyed fully as per the Constitution, regional and international conventions and treaties
Beaten and humiliated
During the meeting, the Journalists said the attacks were intended to destroy evidence of abuses committed by military police against civilians.
Mulindwa Mukasa a reporter with Wavah Broadcasting Service (WBS) TV is one of the victims who sustained injuries on his left arm. He testified that he was assaulted before his camera was forcefully confiscated while filming anti riot and military police dispersing Dr. Besigye’s supporters using live ammunition and tear-gas.
Several photojournalists’ equipment was confiscated by both military police and Uganda Police Force.
Those whose equipment was taken inlude Joseph Mary Buule a reporter with a state owned television Uganda Broadcasting Service (UBC), Stephen Otage a photojournalist with the Daily Monitor, freelance journalist Francis Tumwekwasize and Ayebare Allan a photojournalist with The Razor. Michael Kakumirizi a photojournalist with the Red pepper sustained a big cut on his head while his camera was taken. The cameras belonging to Eddie Ssejjoba a photojournalist with the New Vision, Robert Mutebi a photojournalist with Bukedde and Luswa Anatooli a photojournalist with Eddoboozi were also confiscated.
Other journalists who were assaulted are Mercy Nalugo a reporter with the Daily Monitor who was hit with a baton on the right hand shoulder, Gideon Tugume a reporter with Capital fm, Simon Njala Kagwa a reporter with Radio One, Nasser Kayanja a reporter with Radio Simba lost his recorder.
According to Daily Monitor, “People masquerading as TV cameramen filmed and photographed journalists from different media houses who were covering the arrival of Dr Besigye on Entebbe Road.”
“It is some of these people who later turned on the journalists, attacking and assaulting them with the assistance of soldiers and policemen. Daily Monitor photographer Stephen Otage was filmed and photographed by strange people, some of whom wore jackets with inscriptions “TV press,” reads the article.
“As I photographed armed men breaking up Besigye’s convoy at Najjanankumbi stage, I was confronted by a plain-clothed soldier who grabbed my camera from the neck, as stick-wielding soldiers joined in asking me to identify myself. Before I could pull out my identification card, the same officer pulled out my mobile phone from my pocket and when I handed over my identity card, another one told me to leave my details with them. “But as I went to the military vehicle where my property was dumped, I was ordered to disappear. They descended on other journalists and beat them and confiscated their equipment.” Otage narrated.
Many journalists were also barred from accessing Entebbe International Airport on both 11th and 12th/May/2011 as they awaited the arrival of Dr Besigye.
The media stakeholders’ crisis meeting was organized by Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) at Grand Imperial hotel Kampala and attracted journalists under their six organizations including Uganda News Paper Publishers’ and Editors Association, Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, Uganda Journalists Association, Uganda Parliamentary Press Association, Uganda Media Development Foundation and Editors’ Forum.
Security agents beat journalists