Journalists injured as police turn guns on the media 

A journalist receiving treatment after he was injured by a teargas canister fired directly at him. PHOTO BY DERRICK WANDERA | DAILY MONITOR

Two journalists were seriously injured after police fired at them as security agencies dispersed supporters of National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine in Masaka on Sunday. 

Saif-llah Ashraf Kasirye, a Radio One correspondent and Ghetto TV cameraman, sustained serious injuries on his head and was admitted in critical condition while NTV’s Ali Mivule was injured on his thigh by a teargas canister. 

It’s not clear whether Kasirye was shot with a live bullet as most accounts on social media suggested or a tear gas canister as police said in a statement later Sunday. 

Journalist Mivule, posting on Twitter after undergoing treatment, identified his attacker as a senior police officer and said he had been shot at with a teargas canister in a premeditated move. 

A third journalist, NBS TV’s Daniel Lutaaya fell off a boda boda as he tried to flee the scene to safety, according to eyewitnesses and his own account. He was rushed to hospital where he was receiving treatment for his injuries by Sunday evening.

Police Spokesperson Fred Enanga said in a statement the journalists had not been targetted specifically. 

“Tear gas was used to quell the violence and journalists were regrettably caught up during the process of dispersing the violent group (of Mr Kyagulanyi’s supporters),” he said. “Notable among them was a Ghetto TV crew member identified as Ashraf Kasirye, who sustained blunt force injuries above the left eye allegedly from a canister.” 

Mr Enanga said the police Media Crimes Department had opened a case file to investigate the circumstances under which the journalists were injured.

Over the last seven weeks, at least 15 journalists have been attacked, injured, and/or arrested as they covered 2021 election-related events.  

Media groups have condemned the latest attacks on journalists. The Uganda Editors Guild said in a statement: “Despite repeated appeals to security agencies as well as law enforcement operatives to respect the rights of journalists to work freely and accord them protection, we continue to see blatant attacks against journalists.” 

The statement added: “We have arrived at a point where wearing a press jacket that clearly labels one as a journalist makes them less safe and more likely to be targetted for attack. This is unacceptable; journalism is not a crime.”

ACME said in a news release: “The increasingly brazen and arbitrary clampdown on independent journalism and civic space in the run-up to the general elections is a cause of serious concern” and called upon authorities to bring to book the perpetrators of attacks on journalists. 

“These infringements on media and civic space do not augur well for peaceful elections and the general stability of the country,” said Dr Peter G. Mwesige, the ACME executive director. “We demand that the government upholds and respects the roles and rights of all citizens and stakeholders in this election.”  

Chapter Four Uganda, whose executive director Nicholas Opiyo spent the Christmas holiday in jail over what his defenders called trumped-up charges of money laundering, also spoke out.  

The Foreign Correspondents Association of Uganda (FCAU) called on the authorities to immediately undertake a credible investigation into the attacks on journalists in Masaka. 

“We have repeatedly warned that our safety is in danger but the Ugandan security forces are not listening,” the group said in a statement. “Ugandan security forces must not only protect journalists doing their work, they must facilitate safe reporting during this election period. A free media is essential in any democracy run by the rule of law.”

Patrick Kanyomozi, the President of the Uganda Sports Press Association (USPA), said on Twitter, “attacks on journalists covering @HEBobiwine’s campaigns are deliberate, to force them off the trail so the world doesn’t get to see the atrocities committed in the process of stopping Bobi from campaigning.” 

Ghetto TV, which streams live Mr Kyagulanyi’s campaign, has become a popular online outlet in recent months. It was one of several platforms that the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) asked Google to take down recently over alleged broadcasting of content likely to incite violence and ethnic unrest.  

Ghetto TV’s Facebook pages were recently deleted in what has been confirmed as a government hack. 

According to New Vision, Irene Kaggwa-Sewankambo, UCC’s acting Executive Director said the accounts were deleted in a move to enforce a September directive to all online media platforms to register and get authorized.

“We do not have a special list of those affected but the commission will take action against all those that have not been authorized,” she explained.

Mr Kyagulanyi, a popular artiste who joined politics in 2017, has waged a strong campaign against President Yoweri Museveni who has been in power for nearly 35 years. His campaign, which has leveraged digital and social media through a strong army of youthful supporters, has run into incessant attacks by the police and security agencies who accuse him of not respecting Covid-19 regulations that require only 200 supporters who must wear masks and be socially distanced. 

But the police and security agencies have been accused of selectively implementing the regulations and using the pandemic as an excuse to continue stifling the rights of opposition candidates. 

The FreeBobiWine protests that erupted following Mr Kyagulanyi’s arrest on November 18 left at least 58 Ugandans dead. Most of them were shot by police. The government has maintained that a majority of the dead were rioters or “combatants”’ whom police had a right to shoot.       

Some of the attacks and threats on journalists recorded since the nomination of presidential candidates 

  • 3 November 2020: Vision Group journalist Ronald Kakooza was arrested while covering events at the Forum for Democratic Change headquarters in Najjanankumbi in a build-up to the nomination of the party’s candidate, Patrick Amuriat, who was also roughed up.
  • 3 November: Journalists from different media houses covering a procession by Mr Kyagulanyi’s supporters were pepper-sprayed in Nakawa en route to the nomination grounds in Kyambogo, Kampala.
  • 5 November 2020: Freelance journalist Moses Bwayo was shot in the face with a rubber bullet while filming NUP’s Kyagulanyi, who was heading to the party headquarters in Kamwokya.
  • 12 November 2020: NBS TV team led by reporter Daniel Lutaaya and cameraman Thomas Kitimbo was attacked by unknown thugs in Lira where they were covering the campaign of National Unity Platform’s presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi. Their property, including a laptop, camera chargers, and phones, was stolen while the branded vehicle they were travelling in was vandalised. 
  • 17 November 2020: FDC Presidential Candidate Patrick Oboi Amuriat speaks on switched off radio
  • 18 November 2020: Saif-llah Ashraf Kasirye, a Radio One journalist and Ghetto Tv cameraman, was beaten and pepper-sprayed by police while he covering the Bobi Wine arrest
  • 18 November 2020: Sam Balikowa of City FM and Nile TV in Jinja arrested while covering the arrest of Bobi Wine
  • 18 November 2020: John Bosco Mwesigwa sacked from his job at City FM on accusations of writing pro-Opposition stories
  • 27 November 2020: Government deports three CBC News journalists who were in the country to cover events leading up to the 2021 general election
  • 10 December 2020: The Media Council of Uganda (MCU) directs all practising journalists in Uganda to register for accreditation or risk losing the right to cover the 2021 elections and other official events
  • 15 December 2020: UCC asks to Google close at least 14 YouTube channels for allegedly mobilising riots that resulted in the death of more than 50 people and left several injured in November
  • 16 December 2020: Police warn they will block unaccredited journalists from covering political events and campaigns. 

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