In an unprecedented move, Uganda police force officers have turned their repressive tools of arrest and torture against journalists who are covering Dr. Kizza Besigye’s continuing house arrest.
This afternoon, the District Police Commander for Kasangati James Kawalya issued directives to junior police officers besieging Dr. Besigye at his home to arrest any journalists trying to cover the operation.
The Sunrise photo journalist Musisi Lwanga who witnessed the order but manoeuvred and escaped the arrest narrates that Kawalya displayed utter impunity and disregard of fundamental human rights and freedom of the media when issuing the order.
According to Musisi, Kawalya said: “We should not be ashamed if we are caught on camera. Just get all of them and their cameras.”
Immediately, the officers descended on the journalists who were near. Musisi and his colleagues however managed to escape.
The order comes just a day after the Police spokesperson Fred Enanga issued a statement documenting an escalation of state-inspired violence against the media in Uganda.
During their weekly press conference on Monday, Enanga accused the media of siding with the opposition.
He said: “The media has also not been left in this because of the increased active and aggressive use of propaganda in the media environment that undermines authentic, unbiased journalism across the space.”
Remmy Bahati, an NBS journalist who was telecasting Kawalya’s orders live, was arrested and tortured to the shock of the viewing public. Musisi reports that the leader of FDC’s women league Ingrid Turinawe found female police officers torturing Bahati and intervened.
Bahati and Turinawe were both detained at Kasangati. The Sunrise has learned that Bahati has been released but Turinawe remains locked up.
But the arrests and barring of reporters from Dr. Besigye’s home have attracted serious criticism from defenders of media freedoms in Uganda.
The Coordinator of Human Rights Network of Journalists – Uganda (HRNJ) Robert Ssempala dismissed the tactics used by the police to block journalists from accessing news scenes as uncalled for and a violation of media freedom and the public’s right to know.
“Gen. Kayihura and his men should know that we do not report for our own sake but in the interest of the public. The general public has the right know what is happening with Dr. Besigye and we’re simply doing that job,” said Ssempala.
The hostile treatment of the media outside Besigye’s home this afternoon follow arrests of over a dozen journalists from various media houses in recent days.