Ugandan Opposition Leader's Bodyguards Assault, Harass Three Journalists

Kampala — Ugandan authorities should thoroughly investigate and hold to account those responsible for attacking journalists Zainab Namusaazi, Gertrude Mutyaba, and Magaret Kayondo, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On May 18, the private bodyguards of opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine, harassed and assaulted the three journalists who were covering the funeral of a prominent businessman in the central region district of Lwengo, according to media reports, a statement by the local press rights group the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, and the journalists who separately spoke to CPJ. The attack happened just after Kyagulanyi, who is president of the National Unity Platform (NUP) political party, arrived at the burial grounds and greeted mourners, according to media reports and the journalists.

"Ugandan journalists must be allowed to work without fear of violence," said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Muthoki Mumo, in Nairobi. "Authorities should ensure accountability for the assault and harassment of these three journalists, and NUP opposition party officials must take concrete steps to ensure that their private security personnel do not pose a threat to the media."

Kayondo, a reporter with the privately owned Radio Simba, told CPJ that she was filming Kyagulanyi's arrival when two bodyguards attacked her, pushing her to the ground. The journalist said one of bodyguards repeatedly slapped and punched her in the back. Kayondo said she was treated at a local hospital for a nosebleed and general body pain, adding that her mobile phone and sweater were stolen during the attack.

Namusaazi, a reporter with the privately owned Next Media Services, told CPJ that she witnessed the attack on Kayondo, shouted for the bodyguards to stop, and told them that Kayondo was a journalist. Namusaazi said that the two bodyguards then turned on her, punching her on the knee and breaking her camera. Namusaazi said that she recognized the man who broke her camera as Achileo Kivumbi, a known member of Kyagulanyi's security detail. Namusaazi did not suffer injuries requiring treatment.

Mutyaba, a reporter with the privately owned Nation Media Group, told CPJ that Kivumbi grabbed her camera and tried to confiscate it but was ordered to return it by Edward Ssebuwufu, the head of Kyagulanyi's security detail who is also known as Edwward Mutwe.

On May 20, the Greater Masaka Journalists Association (GREMAJA), a local journalist umbrella body, issued a two-day ultimatum for an apology and compensation from Kyagulanyi's party and warned they would pursue litigation. Namusaazi and Kayondo filed cases at Kiwangala Police Station, in Lwengo district.

On May 21, Alex Waiswa Mufumbiro, the NUP party deputy spokesperson, told CPJ in a telephone interview that the party has conducted internal investigations and said the accusations by the journalists are baseless.

In a separate telephone interview on May 21, NUP spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi told CPJ that the party believes journalism is not a crime, and they are investigating the incident. Ssenyonyi also serves as opposition leader in Parliament, which is a constitutional position appointed by the largest opposition party in Parliament. Ssenyonyi said that he had interviewed some of Kyagulanyi's private security personnel, who provided an account of events at the funeral that did match the journalists'. Ssenyonyi said the bodyguards accused Namusaazi of insulting them and claimed that she did not have a camera. Ssenyonyi said that once investigations were concluded the party would act in the event of any wrongdoing, including by barring those culpable from future events.

On May 21, Twaha Kasirye, the Greater Masaka Regional police spokesperson, confirmed to CPJ that Namusaazi and Kayondo had filed cases with police and had been requested to provide additional information, upon which investigating authorities will determine how to proceed.

The incident is the latest of several CPJ documented cases where journalists covering public events in Uganda have been targeted with robberies, detention, and assault.

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