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Police officer shoots at journalist

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Isaac Kasamani, a "Daily Monitor" photographer, narrowly escaped death when a police officer shot at him on 24 January 2012 at about 7:30 p.m. as he took a photo of a teargas canister thrown near Dr. Kizza Besigye's car at the Gayaza road roundabout in Kalerwe as police dispersed a gathering of people. Michele Sibiloni, an AFP photographer, and Suleiman Mutebi, a Bukedde TV reporter, were also roughed up in the incident. Besigye is the leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

Kasamani said that a police officer emerged from a van and shot at him as he took the photograph.

"I was about seven metres away from the police van, from which a teargas canister had been thrown near Besigye's car. I bent down to take a picture of the exploding canister. I saw the door of the van open and in a split second one of its occupants - a man in a blue camouflage police uniform - shot in my direction, closed the door and sped off very fast. The bullet narrowly missed me as I was bending down to take the picture, but I saw the sparks in my face. I was startled by the incident," Kasamani told HRNJ-Uganda.

On 21 January, Kasamani, while covering a scuffle between Besigye and police in Nakawa, a Kampala suburb, was confronted by the Kampala Metropolitan Police (KMP) commandant, Assistant Inspector General of police Andrew Felix Kaweesi, who said to him, "So you are a Besigye journalist. You are everywhere he is." However, Kaweesi denied the allegation when contacted by HRNJ-Uganda. "I have never threatened him to that effect. I don't threaten anyone. Let him lodge a complaint about what happened and we will investigate. Let them be careful in such times because anyone could be a victim in such situations. I could even see stones flying over Besigye's vehicle," said Kaweesi in his defence.

Suleiman Mutebi, a journalist with Bukedde TV, who was also a victim of the attack, witnessed the shooting attempt. "I was standing just behind Kasamani. I saw a policeman open fire at him, and when I saw him bending I feared the bullet had hit him. It narrowly missed him. Kasamani would be dead now."

Mutebi was also roughed up by a police officer who attempted to grab his video camera. He managed to hold on to his camera while escaping the wrath of the irate police officer. "He came to grab my camera. I pushed him off, he staggered to reach for his gun and I swiftly took off into the crowd at the Kalerwe roundabout," said Mutebi.

Michele Sibiloni, an Italian photojournalist working with the AFP news agency, also struggled with two security officers who attacked him from behind and forcefully attempted to take away his camera. "They grabbed me by the neck from behind, pulling backwards as they tried to grab my camera. I held on to it as I struggled to fight back. They lost the battle and ran away," Sibiloni told HRNJ-Uganda. Mutebi confirmed this incident. He told HRNJ-Uganda that he saw two men dressed in civilian attire running to a police van after a bodaboda (motorcycle) cyclist helped in the fight to defend Sibiloni's camera.

Hadijah Mwanje, a reporter and news anchor with K-FM radio who witnessed the fracas, told HRNJ-Uganda that she has started fearing for her life. "They are going to shoot and kill some of us one of these days, so I have developed a lot of fear now to cover news in such situations," she said. Mwanje is the Deputy Chairperson of HRNJ-Uganda.

"The situation is worrying. The life and property of journalists are under serious threat. There is no safe haven for them to conduct their duties anymore. It is unfortunate that the institution that is supposed to keep law and order is responsible for creating disorder by breaking the law. They should desist from behaving like criminals," said HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

HRNJ-Uganda is seriously concerned about the safety of journalists at the hands of police and other security agents who have intensified their resolve to block the media from covering the brutal crackdowns by police. The police have a duty to protect all Ugandan citizens, including journalists. We call on Police Chief Lt. Gen. Kale Kayihura to account for this situation and explain why his security officers are brutalising and attacking journalists.
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