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Journalists under attack by demonstrators, security forces and media law

Several journalists were beaten and shot at as they faced the fury of authorities and demonstrators in clashes at the site of Ugandan royal tombs destroyed in an arson attack last week, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Three people were killed. Journalists are also under threat from the state as it attempts to muzzle the media and target critical journalists with repressive amendments to the press law, reports the International Press Institute (IPI) and Freedom House.

The mausoleum of four ancient kings, along with cultural relics incinerated on 16 March, represents a major spiritual centre for the Buganda kingdom and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Protestors and mourners gathered in Kasubi the next day, outside the capital, Kampala, to demand an investigation into the fire. Soldiers responded by firing shots into the air to disperse the crowd.

Mukiibi Serunjogi, a reporter for the weekly "Ggwanga", was shot in the knee by a security agent. "The soldiers pointed guns at me and some members of parliament," he told the Ugandan Human Rights Network of Journalists (UHRN-J).

Journalist Moses Lemisa, who covered the protests for the daily "Bukedde", was hit with a gun as he took photographs of security forces firing live rounds. He was then assaulted by demonstrators. "Protestors don't want journalists to take their photos. Once they see their photos in newspapers, they fear the government will come after them," he said. UHRN-J says Lemisa also received a threatening phone call from an army captain who demanded to have access to photos taken of civilians killed by the Presidential Guard Brigade.

Freelance journalist Benjamin Ssebaggala was struck with stones as he tried to photograph protestors. Photographer Steven Musoke also sustained minor injuries. Lemisa, Ssebaggala and Musoke work for the state-owned New Vision media group and were accused by the crowd of not giving fair coverage of the Buganda kingdom, reports UHRN-J.

Deutsche Welle correspondent Leila Ndinda was assaulted by protestors who accused her of belonging to the same tribe as President Yoweri Museveni. The crowd tried to remove her pants and threw stones at her, reports UHRN-J.

Deadly clashes erupted last September between the government and the kingdom over long-held disputes about land and political rights. Buganda is the largest of Uganda's four ancient kingdoms. It was abolished in 1966 but reinstated by President Yoweri Museveni in 1993 with no political power.

At a press conference on 21 March, President Museveni threatened the media as a result of rumours that the government was responsible for burning the tombs, reports the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA).

Meanwhile, changes to the Ugandan Press and Journalist Law, currently being considered by the Ugandan cabinet, permit authorities to revoke the license of a media organisation if it publishes material that is seen as a threat to national security, stability, the economy or unity, reports IPI. There are concerns that media groups may self-censor as the time to renew their license approaches each year. The existing law allows anyone to publish any kind of newspaper in the country and says that no person or authority can block publication based on content, report UHRN-J and EAJA.

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