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Ugandan prison warders attack reporters covering inmate escape

UPDATE: Kalisizo prison officers summoned to court over journalists' attack (HRNJ-Uganda, 24 April 2013)

Prison warders from the Kalisizo government prison assaulted two journalists who were covering news of the escape of over 10 inmates on 18 March, 2013 in the district of Rakai. Pascal Lutabi— a reporter with WBS television and the Daily Monitor — and John Bosco Mulyowa, who reports for the government-owned Bukedde radio, Bukedde television and Bukedde newspaper, were later detained at the Rakai police station for over an hour.

Lutabi was badly beaten and charged with assault. “They nearly killed me; they pounced on me and beat me as if I was a terrorist. I am feeling severe pain on the head and in the abdomen. They kicked me, boxed me, hit me with a gun butt and a stick. They destroyed my video camera. I, [along] with my colleague, had first gone to the prison reception from where the officer in charge of the station turned us away. As we interviewed the nearby residents, a prison warder identified as Semata Robert came and hit me with a stick. I fell down but continued to protect my camera, until four other prison warders including one Kyomwiri Frank joined him in the beating. The scuffle lasted for over 30 minutes,” Lutabi told HRNJ-Uganda.

A medical report indicated that Lutabi had sustained 6 bruises on the head caused by a blunt object. The police retained the journalist's video camera and photo camera, in addition to a bag that contained personal belongings.

Mulyowa told HRNJ-Uganda that a prison warder threw stones at him when he saw him recording the incident with a video camera. “I dodged the stones, and when he tried to chase me, I boarded a commercial motorcycle (boda boda) and fled. When I came back later to check on Lutabi at Kalisazo police station, I was arrested and detained for over an hour, but was later released at night after recording a statement, without any charges preferred against me,” he said.

“I was there and made an alarm to rescue Pascal. It happened in full view of the locals but they feared to intervene. When the police arrived at the scene, Pascal fled for dear life, but the prison warders pursued him and beat him again before the police handcuffed him and took him to Kalisizo police station,” a journalist who witnessed the incident told HRNJ-Uganda.

The two journalists were released at about 10:00pm local time.

The police officer in charge of criminal investigations in the Rakai district, Rose Nabakooza, told HRNJ-Uganda that the prison officers filed an assault case against Lutabi. “Yesterday, there were 10 inmates who escaped from prison. I don't know what happened because I wasn't there, but I know that these people fought. The prison warders reported a case of assault, but I released Pascal on bond because he too had been assaulted. Investigations are going on.”

“HRNJ-Uganda condemns the prison warders' brutal assault of the journalists; it promotes mob justice. This is gross abuse of authority. The police should expeditiously investigate this matter and prosecute the culprits. Such acts are a direct attack on the freedom of the media which is provided for [by] national and international laws,” said HRNJ-Uganda's national coordinator, Wokulira Ssebaggala.

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