Police in Lira assaulted six journalists who were covering a standoff between the National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate, Kyagulanyi Ssentamu Robert, and police that lasted for close to eight hours, the Human Rights Network of Journalists Uganda has said.
The journalists defenders body says Kyagulanyi was blocked from Ngeta road in Lira district as he was heading to Alebtong district to hold a campaign rally.
The journalists assaulted include David Tamale (Bukedde TV), Sessanga Batte (BBS TV), John Cliff Wamala (NTV), Moses Waiswa (Busoga One FM), Ronald Mugenyi (Ghetto Media), and Jona Atusingwize of Pearl FM.
Sessanga Batte, one the Journalists who were assaulted told HRNJ that: “We were covering a standoff between Bobi Wine and police. Suddenly, men dressed in counter-terrorism uniform with masks on their faces started beating us. Their uniforms had no name tags, their faces were covered and we could only see their eyes. I was beaten with a baton on the head, left elbow, and the right hand.”
HRNJ says that Moses Waiswa was also badly beaten on the head with a baton.
“Efforts to reach him and the rest of the journalists were futile as his phones were off. The North Kyoga police spokesperson Ekaju James feigned ignorance of the incident when contacted by HRNJ-Uganda, “am not aware of anybody who was assaulted, let me find out from those who were at the scene. but he never responded later.
“All the assaulted journalists were well known within the security forces because they have been regularly covering Kyagulanyi campaign rallies. They were all severely affected as a resulted of what is said to be deliberate and targeted beatings by the security forces,” HRNJ said.
“Journalists must not be punished for doing their work. We condemn the actions of police officers beating up journalists in the line of duty.
Journalists are the eyes and ears of the public and should not be punished for informing people about what’s happening within the campaign trails of all candidates. We appeal to the police leadership to ensure the safety of all journalists and also prevail over its errant officers” said the HRNJ-Uganda Executive Director Robert Ssempala.
The attack represents yet another a violation of the constitution by the security forces for blocking people’s access to information, a fundamental right that is facilitated by the journalists.
HRNJ says: “This is a very worrying trend of attacks on journalists covering opposition candidates at the presidential and parliamentary levels.
The security has in some cases blocked hosting of the candidates or switching off radio stations in which they are being hosted. Some journalists and editors have lost their jobs for allegedly sympathizing with the opposition in their news stories.
This comes at a time when the Media Council of Uganda has directed all foreign and local journalists and media practitioners to re-apply for accreditation within seven days in order to cover political campaigns, at a fee of UGX200,000/= (USD55). The move has been met with criticism over the timing in the middle of an election, and in terms of inadequate time as well as failure to consult widely with key media actors.