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Journalist struck by police vehicle, suffers serious injuries

UPDATE: Journalist discharged from hospital (HRNJ-Uganda, 6 April 2012)

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Kampala, 2 April 2012 - A journalist working with NBS TV, Ivan Kabaale, was knocked down by a police vehicle as he covered the transfer of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change leader Dr. Kizza Besigye from Kampala to Kasangati on Saturday 31 March 2012.

Besigye was seated in his car, which was parked along Luwum Street in the city centre, before police towed him in his car to Kasangati. He was arrested with three others including his driver, one Kato. His car was pulled by a police crane, amidst tight security, to Kasangati police division. Besigye was released later in the night.

Kabaale was knocked down at Luteete, along Gayaza road, as he tried to film the security convoy in which Besigye was driven.

Kabaale talked to HRNJ-Uganda from a clinic in Gayaza where he was rushed for first aid treatment. He sustained injuries on his right arm, leg and jaw; he said that he was going through a lot of pain.

“I was on a boda boda (motorcycle) riding side by side with the police and capturing the events as they towed Besigye. We rode past the police crane vehicle which was towing Besigye in his car; suddenly, a police crane, registration number UP 2389, swayed at us and hit the boda boda on which we were traveling at a place called Luteete. I fell down, together with the cyclist. The crane just sped off. I was helped by fellow journalists who came moments later, and a police patrol car which took me to a clinic in Kasangati, just next to the police station,” Kabaale told HRNJ-Uganda from Capital Health Clinic and Laboratory.

When the team from HRNJ-Uganda visited him, he was visibly in great pain and had injuries on his body. His video camera was shattered. Kabaale also told HRNJ-Uganda how the police tried to confiscate his video footage when he entered a police van, Reg. no: UP 1931.

“The police chased away all cyclists and made us travel in their van. When I entered, a policeman in civilian attire grabbed my camera and tried to eject the video tape, but he failed, then he returned the camera and asked me to take it out for him. At that time, my editor rang me for news story updates, so the police man was distracted, which gave me an opportunity to give him a wrong tape, which he took away as I retained the one he needed. He took advantage of the absence of other journalists in the van at the moment. He did not beat or insult me,” Kabaale told HRNJ-Uganda.

Kabaale's efforts to open up a case file at Kasangati police were frustrated when the police officers on duty told him that they were too busy to attend to him. He is currently hospitalized in Entebbe and a recent scan shows that he sustained internal bleeding.

In a related development, WBS journalist William Ntege reported that a Commissioner for Traffic, Stephen Kansiima, tried to grab his video camera along Luwum Street at Mutaasa Kafeero plaza as he took footage of the arrival at the scene of the police crane which towed Besigye and his car. “He did not want to be captured as he came in with the police crane. He kept asking me what I was capturing. I warned him against touching my camera and he left.”

On the same day, journalists also confronted the District Police Commander of the Central Police Division, James Ruhweza, over police actions against the journalists covering opposition-related activities. The police were deliberately blocking the media from capturing the incident involving the towing away of Besigye's car.

HRNJ-Uganda condemns this latest approach by the police to target journalists in such a manner.

“The environment for front line journalists is getting more dangerous by the day at the hands of both uniformed and non-uniformed policemen. This is all in total abuse and violation of their cardinal duty to protect Ugandans as they maintain law and order in society. It is wrong for the police to criminalize the work of journalists who cover news items involving the opposition. The police leadership seems to be in total agreement with this act because they have not come out to take action against officers who target journalists. We appeal to the Inspector General of Police to prevail over this situation with earnestness,” said HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala.

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