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Three journalists assaulted as police arrest opposition politicians

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Kampala, 20 January 2012 - Three journalists who were covering the arrest of opposition politicians at Katwe, Ssezibwa and Katonga roads in Kampala were assaulted by several individuals, among them law enforcement officers.

Several other politicians were also arrested at Jinja road and at the Kiira police station, and were beaten by law enforcement personnel. Those arrested include the leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Dr. Kiiza Besigye, and MPs Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, Wafula Oguttu, and Ingrid Turinawe, among others. The arrests followed an opposition meeting by politicians who were on their way to Katwe, a Kampala suburb, where they were planning to hold a public rally.

The media personnel who were assaulted include Michael Kigozi, a journalist with Radio One, and two others, Hadijah Mwanje, the vice chairperson of HRNJ-Uganda and a journalist with K-FM, and Nasser Kayanja, a journalist with Radio Simba.

Kigozi was beaten by a police officer at the Kirra road police station following the arrest of the politicians. The officer hit Kigozi with a baton about ten times on his hands and other parts of his body as he demanded to know why the journalist had taken photos without permission.

Kigozi said the policeman mistook him for a photojournalist because he pulled a mobile phone out of his pocket when a police vehicle arrived and parked at the entrance to the police station.

"It was about 7:40 p.m. The policemen were still ring-guarding the place when a bus came and parked outside, I moved closer to observe. When I pulled out my mobile phone, this policeman descended on me and started hitting me with a baton, demanding to know why I was taking photographs. Three other policemen joined shortly. Other policemen standing by pleaded in vain that I was innocent. I was actually very shocked about this attack. It was a bit dark and I could not identify the policemen who beat me," Kigozi told the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda). He is, however, reluctant to pursue legal action since he would have difficulty identifying his attackers. He says that an apology from them, once identified, would be sufficient for him. He was not seriously injured, although he has experienced some pain as a result of the beating.

The Kiira road division police commander (DPC), Moses Ochieng, told HRNJ-Uganda that he was not aware of the incident, saying, "I am not aware of such an incident, but I know Kigozi very well, so am going to investigate the matter and take punitive action against all those involved."

In a related incident, Radio Simba journalist Nasser Kayanja sustained an injury to his right leg when covering a scuffle involving police officers who were trying to block Kampala district MP Nabbilah Naggayi from holding a political rally at Katwe, in Kampala.

"I was hit by a stone during running battles between the police and Nabbilah's supporters. The police fired teargas to disperse them. I was hit with the stone and sustained an injury, which was treated at Mulago hospital," Kayanja told HRNJ-Uganda.

Meanwhile, HRNJ-Uganda's deputy chairperson, Hadijah Mwanje, was nearly arrested on Ssezibwa Road in Kampala, where police had intercepted Besigye and other opposition politicians.

The K-FM radio journalist and news anchor was mistaken for Nabbilah's sister, prompting a plainclothes security officer to grab her by the arm.

"He approached me and pronounced me under arrest. I identified myself as a journalist, but he would not listen to me and other journalists who had taken to defending me. I was only saved by the DPC for the Central Police Station-Kampala, Norman Musinga, who stopped my arrest," Mwanje told HRNJ-Uganda. She has previously been targeted by police during riots and demonstrations.

"We are witnessing a pattern of police attacks against journalists during demonstrations. We realize that there is a deliberate move to silence the media from documenting their brutal actions committed against demonstrators who are expressing their grievances, thereby denying the people their right to be heard. These attacks also violate media rights and freedoms as prescribed in the Constitution, regional and international treaties," noted HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

HRNJ-Uganda strongly urges the Police Professional Standard Unit (PSU) to make public the findings of investigations into all previous cases of actions against journalists filed with them as they embark on investigating these new cases, which are of equal importance. This backlog must be cleared away as soon as possible so as to expedite justice in these cases.

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