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Photojournalist arrested over alleged publication of defamatory material

(HRNJ/IFEX) - Two resident district commissioners (RDC) arrested Red Pepper Publications Ltd. photojournalist Tony Kizito over the alleged publication of a defamatory story by "Kamunye" newspaper, a vernacular sister paper of Red Pepper.

Kizito, 28, was arrested at around 11:00 a.m. on 30 August 2010. He was on his way to the Mukono town council when he was intercepted by the Buikwe RDC, Betty Ssemakula, who arrested and transferred him to the Mukono RDC, Major David Matovu.

RDCs are appointed by the president as his representatives at the district level. Uganda has more than 110 districts.

On 30 August, "Kamunye" ran a front page story naming top RDCs who have been behind interfering with and blocking Buganda's King Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II from touring his counties. The RDCs included Matovu and Ssemakula, as well as the deputy for the Nakawa division, Fred Bamwine.

HRNJ-Uganda has learned that Kizito was manhandled during the arrest, and that he lost his camera and had his mobile phone confiscated by Ssemakula.

Matovu and Ssemakula allegedly mobilized hooligans who harassed Kizito before he was taken to the Mukono police station. "It is unfortunate that such public officials would take the law into their hands with impunity. Everybody is entitled to a fair hearing in the courts of law," HRNJ-Uganda board chairman Robert Ssempala said.

Article 28 (3) a of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda states that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty by courts of law or until that person has pleaded guilty.

Kizito was transferred to the Mukono police station where he was held starting at 2:00 pm on 30 August. He recorded a statement and was charged with "publishing defamatory material." "I was harassed and manhandled by hooligans hired by these RDCs. They forced me to sit on the ground several times, in addition to insulting me," Kizito said.

HRNJ-Uganda condemns the harassment that Kizito was subjected to in the strongest terms possible and calls on the office of the president to investigate the behaviour of its staff and other perpetrators of these types of action and to strongly discipline them.

Kizito was released on a police bond. HRNJ-Uganda programmes coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala provided surety for him and ordered the police to hand over Kizito at 9:00 a.m. on 3 September.

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