CPJ calls on Uganda to protect journalist shot by soldiers

New York, February 23, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the shooting of a freelance journalist by Ugandan soldiers on February 18, the day of parliamentary and presidential elections. Soldiers shot and injured freelance journalist Julius Odeke near Bugusege, eastern Uganda. 

Forces driving armored vehicles stopped four cars belonging to incumbent MP Nathan Mafabi, dragged Odeke out of the car, and shot him in the side, he told CPJ. He had been covering election violence between supporters of Mafabi and the ruling party candidate, Beatrice Wabudeya, he said. The freelance reporter had taken photographs of soldiers attacking Mafabi and his supporters in the hotly contested Buradiri West constituency before soldiers stopped the cars. Odeke lost his camera and cell phone in the attack.

Odeke, who contributes to the Chinese newswire Xinhua and a new Ugandan tabloid, The Razor, was quickly rushed to Mbale Referral Hospital for treatment. After soldiers sought him out at the hospital, Odeke moved to another medical center for security, Stephen Ouma, general-secretary of the Ugandan Journalists Union told CPJ. The union coordinated assistance for Odeke, who is now recovering, Ouma said.

Criminal Investigations Department Chief Edward Ochom said the violence during the Budadiri West polling is being investigated, according to local news reports.

“We call on the Ugandan authorities to thoroughly pursue its investigation of the outrageous behavior of its armed forces,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “The fact that soldiers went looking for Julius Odeke in the hospital after they had shot him shows that he is still in danger and needs protection. We hold the government responsible for his welfare.”

A heavy deployment of military and police patrolled the area near Bugusege after Wabudeya announced her decision to run against Mafabi two months ago, the Daily Monitor reported. Four other victims of the shooting attack later died, The Razor reported. Mafabi won the vote, according to local news reports.