Journalists have pleaded to the head of the Uganda Police Force, to repent on their behalf and call them to order.
Working under their flagship human rights body – the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda has expressed dismay at the astronomical increase in the number of abuses committed against journalists by Gen. Kayihura’s men.
HRNJ’s latest Press Freedom Index released in March 2016, shows that violations against journalists by the police force are unrivalled compared to all past indices. The latest report shows that police officers assaulted, arrested and detained journalists without charge especially when they were covering political conflicts.
In a report titled Political Coverage Criminalized, shows that journalists were brutally assaulted, their cameras confiscated and arrested for taking photos of police using extreme force while dispersing during public meetings and quelling peaceful demonstrations.
HRNJ-Uganda noted that although most of the violent attacks by police were dismissed by the police leadership as mere actions of individual officers, no effective investigation were carried out to punish the perpetrators.
Media gagging, according to the report, continues to reign through the draconian provisions of the Penal Code Act and the Press and Journalist Act (2000).
Launching the report at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala recently, the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa Country Director, Richard Mugisha, said the police’s harassment of journalists while carrying out their duties on the streets amounts to denying them work.
“President Museveni has declared war on poverty through wealth creation program, but when you beat and force journalists out of the streets you are creating poverty,” Mugisha noted adding that journalists earn from gathering information from the streets and disseminate it to people. He called upon journalists to report about violations of other peoples’ rights and their rights to report freely.
Mugisha said freedom is not given on silver plate but must be fought for. He said what the police is doing to journalists can only stop if the Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura speaks out against it. “Kayihura must come out openly and say don’t beat journalists,” the country director said.
He applauded HRNJ-Uganda for continuously documenting and analyzing journalists’ abuses in the country.
Dr. Donald Rukare, the Head of Party, Freedom House – an American Human Rights organisation that documents violations of media freedom around the world, urged duty bearers to respect freedom of the media and ensure that media laws match with international standards on press freedom.
The head of Uganda Police media crimes department, Commissioner Simon Kuteesa, speaking at the launch denied the police is championing brutality. He cautioned journalist that always report to head of police operations wherever they go to report so that there presence is known.
“Some of you just come to the scene and don’t report to the commander in charge just because you have a (press) jacket but this is not enough in this day and error of terrorism,” the Commissioner said adding that he has no apologies for journalist who had trouble with police for not introducing themselves.
He said that the Police Standards Unit, has done a lot to follow up on the complaints lodged to their office. However, this was disputed by HRNJ-Uganda National coordinator, Robert Sempala who argued that a number of cases referred to Professional Standards Unit had not been handled.