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Television journalist assaulted, detained by police

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - A Bukedde television correspondent from Entebbe, Kigongo Ssebalamu, was assaulted for covering a village meeting that police were addressing without seeking clearance to do so.

Bukedde television is part of the Vision group, a company in which the government is a majority shareholder.

Ssebalamu was arrested on 20 June 2011 at 5:30 p.m. at a village meeting to which he had been invited by residents of Kitara, in Katabi sub county, Wakiso district. The correspondent was invited in order to provide coverage of the event. The meeting was intended to resolve matters concerning witchcraft in which a resident, Male Namukangula, was being accused of being at the center of the problem.

Eyewitness Kato Suleiman told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that Ssebalamu was roughed up and beaten by a group of police officers using batons and the butts of their guns after he refused to stop filming the event.

Kato said the officer in charge (O/C) of the Kisubi police post, Ahmed Madiri, grabbed Ssebalamu by the collar and slapped him as other policemen kicked him.

HRNJ-Uganda has learned that the arrest and assault on Ssebalamu started after he produced an expired employment identity card and police deemed him unfit to cover the proceedings of the village meeting.

"I was beaten by a group of policemen headed by O/C Kisubi Ahmed Madiri using batons, and they badly injured my right knee. I also sustained injuries and bruises on my shoulder, below my right knee and on my back," Ssebalamu said.

He said he was bundled into a police patrol vehicle, his camera was confiscated and he was detained at the Kisubi police post for about an hour until his employers intervened. Ssebalamu was later charged with incitement to violence and released on a police bond.

Upon receiving information about the incident, HRNJ-Uganda contacted Entebbe District Police Commander Muzafaru Zirabamuzale, who said that journalists don't conduct themselves in a "decent manner." But he also said he sent an officer to the area to ascertain the actual details of what exactly transpired.

"We have asked Mr. Ssebalamu to file an assault report at the Entebbe police station, get three police forms and go to a medical doctor for diagnosis. This case merits investigation by the police and the culprits must be held responsible for their actions. Failure to do so will result in HRNJ picking up the issue and most likely we shall take the matter to court," said HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

HRNJ-Uganda appeals to the government of Uganda to accept a visit request by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to assess the country's situation as violence against journalists and other citizens is increasing.

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