Police have beaten up three journalists who were covering the release on bail of the opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye.
The victims were Siraje Lubwama, a journalist with The Observer, a private news publication that comes out thrice a week, Joseph Mutebi, who works for the government's daily vernacular paper Bukedde, and Hasifah Wanyana, a court reporter for the private radio station Kingdom FM.
The incidents happened within the vicinity of the High Court in Kampala, from where Besigye and others had been granted bail on charges of murdering Assistant Inspector of Police John Bosco Ariong, whose death the police blame on the political opposition members.
The attack on journalists comes barely a week after freelance photographer Edward Echwalu and Anatoli Luswa, a photographer for the private Eddoboozi newspaper, fell victim to police brutality, while human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi was roughed up and blocked from accessing the Central Police Station (CPS) premises to defend his clients.
Two of the journalists, Siraje Lubwama and Joseph Mutebi, accuse Regional Traffic Police commander for Kampala Metropolitan Police (KMP) Lawrence Niwabiine of leading the attack on them.
Lubwama told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that he was slapped by Niwabiine when the police commander spotted him taking down notes in his notebook.
"There was an exchange going on between Besigye and the police over which route to use. When I got out my notebook to take down notes, Niwabiine charged at me and asked me what I was writing down. He slapped me in the face when I told him that I was a journalist and showed him my press identity card. Two policemen grabbed me from behind and dragged me to the CPS from where others joined them and started kicking, slapping and hauling insults at me. One of them cheered on the others, saying 'beat him,' since there are no cameras inside here. In the incident, I lost my money and had my three cell phone handsets shattered. I was rescued by Daily Monitor journalist Chris Obore, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, the MP for Kyaddondo East, and the KMP commandant, Andrew Felix Kaweesi. But after the three had gone, the policemen came and beat me again and mixed me up with the other arrested people," Lubwama told HRNJ-Uganda.
He was freed by Kaweesi who told him to report to the police later and make a statement. Lubwama said that he was feeling a lot of pain in the back, limbs and head, which were the most targeted parts.
Another victim journalist, Joseph Mutebi, told HRNJ-Uganda that he was slapped and hit with a baton by the police.
"I saw the police beating up the Mayor of Kawempe division, Munyagwa Mubarak, as I started to take photos, I heard Niwabiine ordering his men to clear me out of the way, and he mentioned my name. He immediately approached and slapped me hard in the face. He ordered another policeman to take care of me. The policeman hit me with a baton on my right hand. Niwabiine knows me very well because I have been covering crime news for the last eight years. He would even call me to cover his traffic operations. Another police officer, Mwesigwa Onesmus, pleaded for mercy for me. After the incident, I went to CPS to open up a case, but the police at the reception declined, then I went to rooms 41 and 42, which also declined. But later on I went to Kaweesi who calmed me down," Mutebi narrated to HRNJ-Uganda.
The third victim was Hasifah Wanyana of Kingdom FM radio. She told HRNJ-Uganda that her attack took her by surprise and she just decided to sit down.
"The attack was an abrupt one. I can't tell where the men came from. We were many journalists trying to record the exchange between Besigye and the police, and then policemen swarmed us. They were holding batons. I was beaten with a stick on the thighs by a policeman. I sat down and pleaded for mercy. I was holding an audio recorder which I managed to protect. It's the journalists who came to my rescue. I can't report to police, after all they are the ones attacking us," she told HRNJ-Uganda.
"HRNJ-Uganda condemns the attack on journalists and the media by state agents. These are targeted beatings on the journalists and the pattern is very worrying for press freedom in the country. The police have a duty to protect all people, including journalists, so this is the worst conduct exhibited by the police. We call upon the Inspector General of Police and the ministry of internal affairs to respect the freedom of the media to report on all matters, including those by the opposition politicians," HRNJ-Uganda said.