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Government report exonerates police in shooting of "Daily Monitor" photojournalist

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Kampala, 13 March 2012 - A government investigation report has exonerated the Uganda Police Force in the alleged shooting of Daily Monitor photo journalist Isaac Kasamani during an opposition rally earlier this year. It attributes the blast to a tear gas canister which was thrown by the police.

The 115-page report by a government-hired Irish investigator, William Redmond, says that there was no shooting at all by any occupants of police van UP 1928. He concludes that the 64mm gas/smoke canister which was used emits a sharp noise which sounds like a shot and sparks are emitted.

“As a result of this demonstration the investigator is satisfied that the only item of all the items demonstrated that could be described as a gas/smoke canister is the 64mm hand thrown smoke grenade, which also contains a small amount of C S gas. This item when thrown emits a sharp noise which sounds like a shot and as it explodes what you would describe as sparks are emitted before the smoke begins to pour out of the canister. The effect of all these items are heavily influenced by the wind speed and the direction of the wind. So before they are used, the commander has to be sure that he and his officers will not be affected should they decide to use them,” reads the report in part.

Kasamani says that he narrowly escaped death when a policeman allegedly shot at him on 24 January 2012 at about 7:30PM local time, as he took a photo of a tear gas canister thrown near Dr. Kizza Besigye's car at Gayaza road round about, at Kalerwe, as police dispersed Besigye' supporters after a walk-to-work demonstration organized by the Activists 4 Change (A4C). Two others, Michele Sibiloni, an AFP photographer, and Suleiman Mutebi, a Bukedde TV reporter, were also roughed up. Kasamani said that a policeman emerged from a van with registration number UP 1928 and shot towards him as he took a photo.

While releasing the report at the government Media Centre, the state minister of Internal Affairs, James Baba said that Kasamani could have mistaken the blast for gunfire. “It is clear on any reasonable assessment of the facts that no shot was fired by police at Mr. Isaac Kasamani. I must assume Mr. Kasamani was mistaken,” he said amid questions by journalists as to whether the report was not doctored to clear the image of government.

Baba added, “Honest mistakes happen. There is no culpability in making an honest mistake, but I feel bound to say that some people in the media bear culpability for their lack of professionalism.”

There has been an increase in attacks on journalists, especially those who cover opposition rallies.

On Saturday 21 January, Kasamani, while covering a scuffle between Besigye and police at Nakawa, a Kampala suburb, was allegedly confronted by the Kampala Metropolitan Police (KMP) commandant, Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi, who told him: “So you are a Besigye journalist. You are everywhere he is.” However, Kaweesi denied the allegations when contacted by HRNJ-Uganda.

Hon. Baba attacked the media for what he described as using false reports to tarnish Uganda's international reputation.

“We in government should soon come to a point when we will have to consider how the media is regulated in this country. We simply cannot continue to allow our international reputation to be tarnished by false reports which are published as fact. It is something I intend to raise in cabinet with a number of my colleagues.”

“We welcome the report and the swift manner in which it was done. However, we regard the threats made by the minister as serious attacks on the independence of several media houses, which could unfortunately be understood as a justification for police to unleash their brutality on journalists,” said HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala.

Ssebaggala observed that this is seemingly a systematic and deliberate targeting of media personnel by security operatives intended to block them from covering details of police and security conduct during demonstrations.

Ssebaggala said that HRNJ-Uganda is analyzing the details of the report in order to react to it.

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