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Police in Fort Portal assault radio journalist

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - 21 January 2011 - Two police officers from the Fort Portal Central Police Station assaulted Voice of Tooro radio journalist Mutegeki Geoffrey. The incident took place on 17 January when Mutegeki went to cover an impending students' strike at the Fort Portal School of Clinical Officers. The school is located in Western Uganda.

The students had threatened to stage a strike over poor conditions and their demands for the transfer of the college's principal.

Mutegeki, 25, was signing the visitor's book at the school's main entrance when the policemen, who suspected him of carrying a camera, demanded that he delete any photographs he might have taken.

"I reached the news scene at around 2:00 p.m. As I was signing the visitor's book, a policeman mistook my cell phone for a camera. He then started demanding that I delete all the photographs on it. I told him that it was a cell phone not a camera but he went ahead and confiscated it," Mutegeki said.

He added that as he was being accused of having taken photographs by one policeman, another came from behind and struck him twice on the head, while also kicking his right leg.

Sources told the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that Mutegeki could not file an assault complaint because the police in the area denied him access to Police Form 3 when he went for assistance. "They kept referring me from one police officer to another until I gave up," Mutegeki told HRNJ-Uganda.

Police Form 3 is an official document issued to victims of assault.

HRNJ-Uganda learned that the police ignored the case until radio stations in the area broadcast news of it.

"We received a call from the Fort Portal District Police Commander, Joseph Kihamba, who invited us to a meeting. He blamed us for having aired negative stories against the police," a journalist who preferred not to be named told HRNJ-Uganda.

"This violent act was criminal in nature and infringes on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and the media as enshrined in Uganda's constitution," said HRNJ-Uganda board chairman Robert Ssempala.

HRNJ-Uganda demands that the errant officers be brought to book for their unprofessional behaviour. Should they fail to do so, HRNJ-Uganda will not hesitate to initiate a private lawsuit.

The Fort Portal District Police Commander told HRNJ-Uganda that the case was being investigated and promised to take action by 24 January.

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