Mixed reactions over court ruling on journalist assault case

Human rights activists have castigated court for giving a “light” sentence to a police officer found guilty of assaulting television journalist Andrew Lwanga.

On Friday 10 March, Grade One Magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu fined former Old Kampala Division Police Commander, Joram Mwesigye, Shs1 million for assaulting Lwanga. She also ordered Mwesigye to give Shs5 million to Lwanga as compensation within a month’s time.

However, Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda (HRNJ) said the judgement is an insult to journalists.

Mr Robert Sempala, the coordinator HRNJ, said: “The sentence handed to Joram is not deterrent to perpetrators from assaulting journalists on duty. We believe the judgement is an assault to journalists and renders them more susceptible to attack by such errant security officers.”

Court heard that in January 2015, Mwesigye assaulted Lwanga at Namirembe Road in Kampala as he filmed a demonstration by the Unemployed Youths of Uganda. The assault damanged Lwanga’s spine and broke his equipment.

The Observer newspaper reports that a large group of journalists that gathered at the Buganda Road Chief Magistrates Court, at Buganda Road to witness the ruling were angry at the outcome, deeming it a travesty of justice.

The paper quotes Daily Monitor photojournalist Abubaker Lubowa who said the sentence would allow police get away with assault on journalists.

“The ruling will leave us [journalists] exposed. During riots or demonstrations, policemen will just kick or beat us, after all courts cannot send them to jail,” Lubowa said.

On his part, Lwanga expressed dissatisfaction about the judgement, saying it was “a mockery of justice”.

“Joram has walked away scot-free with such a light fine, yet for me, I’m still suffering and undergoing treatment. I have no job. I lost my property in the process and I remain deformed,” he told HRNJ.

Court also acquitted Mwesigye on two counts of malicious damage to property, but Lwanga says he will appeal the sentence, a move supported by HRNJ.

However, human rights lawyer Peter G. Magelah explained that the journalist can’t appeal the sentence because of the nature of the case.

“This matter was a criminal case. A criminal case is brought by the State against the person accused of committing a crime. The victim is ONLY a witness. The victim cannot appeal. It is only the Director of Public Prosecutions (State) that can appeal. This means neither the journalists, not the victim can appeal. The only thing they can do is beg the DPP to appeal,” he said, in a Facebook post.

However, in a divergent view from the rest, Amnesty International hailed the sentence as a rare victory for press freedom in Uganda.

Amnesty International’s East Africa Researcher Abdullahi Halakhe, said: “It sends a clear message that attacks on journalists must never be accepted or tolerated under any circumstances. It will hopefully assure people working in the media that the courts are watching; willing and ready to uphold their rights.

He added: “Press freedom has become increasingly restricted in Uganda with numerous attacks on media outlets seen as critical of the government in the past year. Today’s court decision offers a chink of light in an otherwise bleak outlook and demonstrates that the judiciary is prepared to defend freedom of expression.”

Harriet Anena

Harriet Anena is ACME’s Special Projects Officer

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