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Photojournalist evacuates family over threats by government officials

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - A photojournalist working for Red Pepper publications, Tony Kizito, fears for the lives of his family members following numerous direct threats from the District Resident Commissioners (RDCs) in Mukono and Buikwe, in the central region of Uganda.

The RDCs are the president's representatives in a given district and perform duties on behalf of the president. They are public servants.

Article 203 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda sets the overall duty of an RDC as monitoring the implementation of central and local government services in the district.

Kizito, 28, has been receiving threatening phone calls from RDCs Major David Matovu and Betty Ssemakula accusing him of tarnishing their names. They demanded that he write an open apology and that it be carried on the front page of the newspaper, or his life will be threatened.

"I have received threatening calls from the two RDCs demanding that I make an open apology to them in the paper or else my life was doomed," Kizito told HRNJ-Uganda.

Matovu has reportedly been propagating hate campaigns while appearing on various local radio stations and mobilizing the public against Kizito. "The RDC has been on the radio and at various forums mobilizing hooligans to attack me," said Kizito.

He says he had to evacuate his family of three, including a mother who had just given birth less than a month ago and a 3-year-old girl, to an undisclosed location for their safety.

The RDCs, being the heads of security in all districts in Uganda, have often misused their power and directed police and other security agencies to do whatever is in their favor.

HRNJ-Uganda learned that at one time Matovu tasked the area local leader of the village to ensure that Kizito appeared before him. He did the same to Kizito's landlady.

When contacted by the HRNJ-Uganda team, Matovu neither denied nor admitted to intimidating and threatening Kizito. "I am not bothered by his journalistic work. If you want more, you can talk to his fellow journalists in Mukono district," he said.

On 30 August 2010 "Kamunye" newspaper (owned by Red Pepper) ran a front-page story naming top RDCs who have been behind interfering and blocking Buganda King Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II from touring his counties. The RDCs then arrested Kizito and took him to the Mukono police where he was released on bond.

"This is a gross abuse of power by the RDCs who should know better how to raise a complaint or open up a case if aggrieved, through proper channels, rather than making threats on people's lives," said HRNJ-Uganda Board Chairman Robert Ssempala.

HRNJ-Uganda condemns such acts in the strongest terms and calls on the president to punish such errant public officers who are bent on instilling fear and threatening violence against the watchdogs of society - media personnel.

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