Women in the media have petitioned Parliament, protesting the assault of Bukedde TV journalist by minister without Portfolio Abraham Byandala.
Under their umbrella body, Uganda Media Women’s Association (UMWA), the women want action taken against Mr Byandala who is also MP for Katikamu County North Constituency.
“It is very disheartening for a government official to use their position of authority to assault others,” reads the petition signed by UMWA executive director Margaret Sentamu-Musagazi.
On 23 March 2016, Mr Byandala was captured on camera punching Judith Naluggwa in the lower abdomen as she took photos of the minister at the Anti-Corruption Court. Mr Byandala had appeared in court in connection with the Shs24 billion Mukono-Katosi road scandal in which he is implicated.
Ms Sentamu and her team want punitive measures taken against the minister. They urged “government to scrutinize those they intend to give leadership roles and ascertain that indeed they are leaders who are able to manage stress/anger while under duress”.
The petitioners further argue that “government through the justice system, expedites the process to give reprieve to the complainant and punish the culprit”.
They also appealed to the media fraternity, including media managers and owners to take interest in issues affecting the industry and work as a group in solving them.
After receiving the petition, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah said the minister should tender an apology, calling the incident regrettable.
“Byandala will make a personal statement in the House because we need the image of Parliament cleared in such cases,” he said, as quoted by Daily Monitor.
However, in a surprising u-turn on 29 March 2016, Ms Naluggwa withdrew the assault case she had lodged against the minister, saying he had apologized to her.
In an interview with New Vision, Ms Naluggwa said she had not been coerced into withdrawing the case and refuted claims that she could have been paid off.
However, her action drew condemnation from a section of journalists who said she risks setting a bad precedent for media practitioners in case of future assault cases.
Ms Diana Nandutu of Human Rights Network for Journalists -Uganda (HRNJ-U), speaking to New Vision, said: “Withdrawing the case would not be the right thing for her to do; this is going to promote impunity. Other people are going to do the same and get away with it.”
Ms Barbara Kaija, the Editor-In-Chief of Vision Group, under which Bukedde TV falls, was also not comfortable with Ms Naluggwa’s decision. Speaking to New Vision, Ms Kaija said Mr Byandala’s “assault on the journalist is an assault on the whole media”.
She added: “As a Cabinet Minister, he should be defending the fourth estate. Such impunity cannot be wished away. He owed the whole media industry and the country much more.”
Cases of assault and violations against journalists while in line of duty have been coming up in recent months. For instance, between October 2015 and February 2016, HRNJ-U reported 70 violations against journalists, including physical assault, destruction of journalists’ work equipment, intimidation, arrest and detention of journalists.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Uganda also in February condemned the pepper spraying of their member, Isaac Kasamani, by security operatives as he took pictures outside politician Kizza Besigye’s home in Kasangati.
In March, several journalists were arrested and manhandled by police as they covered Dr Besigye’s apprehension by security officers.