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Police arrest journalist's attackers, subsequently release them on bond

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - On 12 October 2010, the police in Masaka arrested two people in connection with an assault on Top Radio journalist Bwekumbule Frank.

At around 5:00 p.m. on 10 October, Bwekumbule, 26, was assaulted while covering the demolition of a house belonging to a person identified only as Bakatadde. The house was destroyed by the family members of Jjumba Ssegwanyi, who are also related to Bakatadde. They accused Bakatadde of disrespecting Jjumba Ssegwanyi, their ageing father, by not greeting him and insulting him whenever they met. The two have been occupying the same piece of land. Bwekumbule was accused of interfering in family matters.

Those arrested include Jjumba Ssegwanyi, who is in his 70s, and Lukwago Issa, who is in his 50s. They were arrested at their residence in Butaya village, Kabonera Sub-County, Masaka district, in the Southern region.

Masaka district police commander Titus Byaruhanga told HRNJ-Uganda that the suspects were arrested at 12:00 p.m. on 12 October and released on bond at 2:00 p.m. after recording a statement.

"We are investigating the truth of the matter because the case lacks evidence. The part of his body where Bwekumbule claimed he had been attacked had an old scar and was not swollen," Byaruhanga said.

Sources at the Masaka police station told HRNJ-Uganda that Bwekumbule and the two suspects were locked inside a private room on 12 October to discuss possible ways of settling the case before it is taken to court.

Bwekumbule confirmed to HRNJ-Uganda that he met with the suspects at the Masaka police station but said he did not submit to their requests. "They were pushing me to accept payment. I insisted that the case was beyond my control and being handled by a journalists' protection body," Bwekumbule said. Until he gets a response from HRNJ-Uganda, he said he cannot accept such offers.

"Although we live in the same village with the suspects, I am mindful of increasing violence against journalists in Uganda, particularly in the Southern region," Bwekumbule said.

The suspects are supposed to report back to the Masaka police on 19 October.

HRNJ-Uganda calls on the police in Masaka to refrain from assisting suspects in escaping the law. "The police must exercise their independence and avoid compromising their constitutional obligations. A person's economic status should not be a basis to determine who will face the law or not," HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala said.

HRNJ-Uganda demands that the police quickly conclude their investigation and bring the culprits to trial. Failing that, a private prosecution case will be considered.

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