As Ugandan journalists convened in Kampala to commemorate May 3, World Press Freedom Day in Kampala, some of their colleagues were at the receiving end of police brutality.
The Police arrested seven journalists identified as Phillip Onyango, Issa Kigongo, Bukenya Ronald, Mukisa Daniel, Kabuye Ronald, Nakabale Issa and Atusingwize Johan for allegedly holding an unlawful assembly.
The seven, who allegedly belong to a breakaway faction of the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA), and tried to organise a match without police permission.
The journalists insist that they told Police of their intended match, according to HRNJ Uganda.
“We wrote to police on 20th April, 2017 about our plans for the day, but we were surprised when it turned against us and roughed us up as though it was illegal for us to have parallel activities,” said Kigongo, one of the journalists.
They also decried the manner in which they were arrested: “I was brutally arrested by the police, they tore my trousers and I sustained a cut on my head. They also confiscated my property including a cell phone,” Nakabaale told HRNJ-Uganda at CPS.
The arrest attracted wild condemnation from the civil society, human rights bodies and journalists, among others. The arrest came just a day after a local media rights body –Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda had released a Press Freedom Index for 2016 titled ‘Tough Times, Political Instability stifles Media Freedom’.
The Report documented a total of 135 cases of violation and abuse, with police ranked as the leading perpetrator with 83 cases (61%). Police has been ranked as the leading media freedom violators by local and international rights bodies for several years now.
The Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, Emillian Kayima dismissed claims that police was acting under the influence of one of the UJA factions. He said the journalists were released without any charges preferred against them.
HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala decried the manner in which the pressmen were arrested: “It is unfortunate that the police goes ahead to brutally arrest journalists on a day they are free to celebrate press freedom. Police should do better to ensure the safety and security of journalists, and also maintain neutrality at all times. Journalists need to work together for the greater good of defending our freedom.”