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Television journalist beaten by mob while covering alleged election irregularities

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Mbale, 18 February 2011 - Gerald Mutembu, a Wavah Broadcasting Service (WBS) television station journalist based in the district of Mbale, was beaten by a mob allegedly comprised of supporters of the State Minister for Housing, Michael Werikhe. WBS is a privately-owned media outlet based in Uganda's capital, Kampala.

Mutembu had rushed to the Khamoto trading centre in Bungokho Sub County, Mbale district, after receiving information about election malpractices. "At about 1:00 p.m. on 18 February, I arrived at the news scene and found groups fighting over the alleged bribery and intimidation of voters by supporters of Werikhe and security operatives clad in civilian clothing," the journalist said. He said he began filming the scuffle at the trading center but to his surprise a mob turned on him, grabbing him by the collar and trying to confiscate his camera. In the scuffle, Mutembu was struck and his lips were split, resulting in bleeding.

"I pleaded with the mob, saying that I am only a journalist executing my professional obligations, but the beatings continued for over 20 minutes," Mutembu said.

The journalist said he was later rescued by a group of sympathizers who whisked him away in a private vehicle. Mutembu recorded a statement about the incident with the Mbale police, then went to a hospital for treatment. He told the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that he is planning to take the matter to court because he has sufficent evidence to pursue the case in the justice system.

HRNJ-Uganda condemns in the strongest term possible the violence to which journalists have been subjected during the general election. "We are worried over the snail's pace in the investigations and in apprehending the suspects," said HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

HRNJ-Uganda's legal department will consider taking up the issue of the failure of the police to act immediately.

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