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Police beat up journalist, delete photos and charge him with trespassing

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - 12 January 2012 - The police in Pader have beaten up journalist Frank Ezaruk who is the Uganda Radio Network (URN) bureau chief for Kitgum in Northern Uganda.

Ezaruk was covering a story about land in Manilamintwiea where people were evicted in 1920. The former Member of Parliament for Erute North, Angiro Gutomoi Charles, had threatened to move into the area with about 5,000 evictees, however, police moved to stop him.

Police went ahead to arrest some locals they accused of conspiring with Angiro to cause chaos. When Ezaruk took photos of these suspects and others like the Pader district chairman, Alfred Akena, while addressing the locals, four policemen in a nearby parked police vehicle descended on him, grabbed his camera and started deleting the photos one by one.

"The officer in charge of operations for Pader district, Onek Romeo Ojara, took me over to the District Police Commander for Pader, Sabiiti Ambrose, who said he had not given me permission to take any photos. Sabiiti ordered that they should take my camera and detain me. They ordered me to sit down. When I asked what crime I had committed, two policemen kicked me from behind until I was on the ground," Ezaruk told HRNJ-Uganda.

Ezaruk said that after about an hour on the ground, they wanted to tie him along with other suspects, but when he resisted saying he wasn't a criminal, two other policemen pushed him further on the ground and tied his arm with a rope. Ojara ordered to untie him moments later. The police then immediately charged Ezaruk with criminal trespassing and taking photos from a prohibited area.

"They took my statement, which they wanted me to sign without reading it back to me, as is required by law. They had omitted the part where I said I had been kicked and pushed on the ground. They later included it and I signed it. I was released on bond. My arm is hurting and I am suffering from serious back pain," said Ezaruk.

"I had pardoned him but now that he is making noise, I am going to prosecute him. This issue is complicated, and this land issue cannot be reported in the media. I had told him not to take any photos from here. So he committed a crime. But I don't know who deleted his photos," said Sabiiti. Ezaruk reported to police on 12 January and his bond was extended to 18 January as investigations into the alleged case continue.

"HRNJ-Uganda is currently undertaking investigations into the matter and will not hesitate to take punitive action against these police officers," noted HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala.

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