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Photojournalist assaulted by ruling party supporters

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Lira, 22/Jan/2011 - Michael Kakumirizi, a "Red Pepper" publications photojournalist, was mobbed by suspected supporters of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party while covering an opposition presidential candidate's campaign rally in the Lango sub-region.

Kakumirizi, in his late 20s, escaped with a deep wound to his forehead and bruises on one of his arms after being struck by bricks and a bicycle that were thrown at him.

Francis Tumwekwasize, a former WBS TV journalist now affiliated with the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) Press Unit, was also beaten. The IPC is a coalition of opposition political parties that nominated retired Colonel Dr. Kiiza Besigye as their candidate for the Ugandan presidency.

The journalists were roughed up by the suspected NRM supporters, who accused them of taking their pictures while they were allegedly bribing voters at the Aloi Police Post, in the newly created Alebeatong district, in an attempt to keep residents away from Dr. Kizza Besigye's 19 January rally in the area. When a camera flash went off, the NRM supporters realised that there were journalists among a group of residents they had called to the Aloi Police Post to receive money.

The Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) was told by an eyewitness that the NRM supporters pounced on the journalists and tried to take away their cameras, but the journalists put up a fight to protect themselves and save their equipment.

"I was rounded up by the NRM supporters as I tried to escape. They beat me with batons and kicked and punched me. I was helpless because the area police just looked on. I was saved by Besigye's guards. I am not politically involved, and at the time I was only doing my journalistic work," Kakumirizi told HRNJ-Uganda.

Security guards arrested the Aloi Sub County NRM Chairman Francis Owino, who has been accused of leading the attack on the journalists. The police struggled with Besigye's supporters to save Owino from being lynched.

Owino and other suspects were immediately driven to the Alebeatong Police Station, where the journalists also filed assault reports against the NRM leaders.

Surprisingly, however, the District Internal Security Officer (DISO), Abdul Ogwal, secured the release of Owino and his allies. It was later established that the DISO is a relative of Owino's.

"HRNJ-Uganda is greatly concerned about the increasing violence against journalists at the hands of ruling party supporters with impunity. We challenge the police and other authorities to prosecute this group as a way to preserve and protect journalists during this campaign period," said HRNJ-Uganda Board Chairperson Robert Ssempala.

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