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Journalist assaulted by police commander, another roughed up by group of officers

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Kampala, 12 April 2012 - A journalist with Pearl FM radio, Mubiru Ali, was assaulted by the District Police Commander (DPC) for Central Police Station (CPS) in Kampala, James Ruhweza, while covering a news story, while Bahati Remmy of NBS TV was roughed up by a group of police officers inside the CPS as they forced her out of the premises.

Mubiru was struck with a baton by James Ruhweza during a scuffle between police and Makerere University students who had converged at the Constitutional Square in the city centre to launch a book titled, "Is this the fundamental change?" The leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Dr. Kizza Besigye, was to be the chief guest. Police blocked the activity, saying the location was not a suitable venue.

Mubiru was hit in the back. He told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that at the time, he was recording an exchange between police and the students. Four of the organizers of the function were arrested and locked up at CPS.

"I was holding an audio recorder and capturing the developments of an exchange between the police and students at the Constitutional Square when Ruhweza pushed us and hit me with a baton on my back, tearing my t-shirt. I was seriously bruised. I went to CPS to open an assault case but was turned away when the police at the entrance said that the premises were out of bounds to non-police people," Mubiru said.

Mubiru is Pearl FM radio's specialized reporter on police and crime beats.

In a similar encounter, Bahati was encircled by a group of police officers as she stood on the ground floor of CPS, in a press jacket and with her camera on hand, during a heavy downpour around midday. The police ordered all journalists to exit CPS as Besigye got inside to ask why the police blocked the student function and arrested others.

"I heard an order for me to get out, but before I could move an inch a policewoman and another policeman started assaulting me. They were shortly joined by other policemen in police uniforms. They slapped and kicked me as they dragged me outside. I was saved by a white man from a group that offers technical help to the police force who confronted them, decrying the act. The incident lasted for about three minutes," Bahati told HRNJ-Uganda.

She quoted the group as asking her "why journalists continue giving Besigye popularity by according him media coverage and publicity?"

She has since opened an assault case file at the CPS. The officers at the desk first declined to handle the matter until she sought the intervention of the DPC James Ruhweza, who ordered them to that effect.

Meanwhile another journalist, Ronald Muhindo, of Radio One/Two, popularly known as Akaboozi, narrowly escaped arrest when fellow journalists engaged the police who had got hold of him and were leading him to a waiting police van.

"Attacks on journalists are on the rise at the hands of the security. This poses a big danger to their lives. Some journalists have since abandoned taking up assignments which involve reporting news stories about opposition politicians in Uganda. So we call upon the various stakeholders, especially the police leadership, to prevail upon the Uganda Police Force against criminalizing media coverage of particular activities. We also demand a thorough and prompt investigation into these attacks and appropriate action taken against the perpetrators," demanded HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala.

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