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Journalists dissatisfied with Ugandan police officer's sentence

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This statement was originally published on on 10 March 2017.

The Chief Magistrate's Court at Buganda Road has found the former Division Police Commander (DPC) of Old Kampala, Joram Mwesigye, guilty of assaulting WBS Television journalist Andrew Lwanga. Mwesigye has been fined (sentenced) one million shillings (USD 282), and [must pay] five million shillings (USD 1,409) as compensation to the assaulted journalist, which he has to pay in 30 days. If Mwesigye fails to make the payments within 30 days, he will serve one year in prison. The journalists present at court reacted angrily to the sentence, describing the process as a miscarriage of justice.

Parked to full capacity, the court – presided over by the Buganda Road Court Grade One Magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu – acquitted Mwesigye on two other counts of malicious damage to property. Lwanga accused Mwesigye of damaging his camera, whereas journalist Joseph Ssetimba (of Bukedde TV) accused Mwesigye of tearing his trousers.

Nevertheless, Mwesigye was acquitted on these two counts of malicious damage to property. The court ruled that there was no proof of ownership – such as receipts – of the said items.

Her Worship Kamasanyu based her conviction on the evidence of four prosecution witnesses, that included three journalists, a television librarian who tendered in video footage, and a doctor that examined Lwanga. The magistrate said that she viewed the footage tendered by the librarian of NTV and ruled that there was absolutely no reason why Lwanga was assaulted since he was properly identified in his blue WBS TV T-shirt, busy doing his work. She said that the journalists properly identified Mwesigye as the one who was wearing a khaki police uniform with his name on it, holding a stick that [he used to] beat up Lwanga.

She noted that Lwanga was deeply hurt and his body was tampered with; he sustained injuries on his head, left ear and chest, thereby causing him actual bodily harm. The magistrate, however, handed Mwesigye a light sentence – saying he has been remorseful and regretful of his actions throughout the trial, on top of being suspended from active police service.

Lwanga, however, described the process as a mockery of justice which would not help journalists scare away potential perpetrators.

“[I] am dissatisfied with the outcome of the court. This judgment is a mockery of justice, and I will appeal against the sentence and the acquittal on the two counts. Joram [Mwesigye] has walked away scot-free with such a light fine, yet for me, [I] am still suffering and undergoing treatment. I have no job, I lost my property in the process and remain deformed,” said Lwanga.

Lwanga was assaulted on 12 January 2015 at Florina Bar and Guest House on Namirembe road in Kampala, as he and other journalists were covering unemployed youths who were taking a petition to the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, and carrying placards reading “we want jobs.”

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda described the judgment as an insult to journalists. “We were surprised when [the] court acquitted Joram [Mwesigye] of malicious damage to property yet he is seen in the video – which the magistrate said she watched many times – hitting the camera with a stick. The sentence handed to Joram is also not deterrent to perpetrators from assaulting journalists on duty. We believe the judgment is an insult to journalists and renders them more susceptible to attack by such errant security officers. This judgment should be appealed...” said HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala.

For a fact sheet on Andrew Lwanga's case, complied by HRNJ-Uganda, Click here.

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