CPJ condemns Ugandan police attack at protest

New York, March 18, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns an attack against the press covering an event organized by opposition party candidates in Uganda. The forces attacked about a dozen journalists covering a protest rally in Jinja, eastern Uganda, organized by three opposition parties on March 11, according to local journalists. 

Police and security agents lobbed teargas canisters at 13 journalists at the Jinja demonstration, which was part of a nationwide campaign organized by opposition groups to protest allegedly fraudulent elections, Robert Kanusu, a spokesman for the organizer, the Uganda People’s Congress Party, told CPJ. Protesters gathered in the Kazimingi industrial area where the Uganda People’s Congress leader, Olara Otunnu, had planned to collect signatures of voters to protest the elections and call for a new independent electoral commission. Four million signatures of disgruntled voters have already been collected in a roster called the “Blue Book,” Kanusu said.

Journalists have paid a price for covering the activities of the opposition party and Uganda’s contentious February elections, during which six journalists were attacked by a mob.

“We condemn the use of violence by the police and security officers against these journalists, who were doing their job in covering a public protest,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “This ongoing pattern of harassment and attacks by Ugandan security officers against journalists must end immediately.”

At the Jinja demonstration, a police officer hit Hasifah Nakyanzi–a reporter for the private, Christian-oriented TOP (Tower of Praise) TV–in the face with a tear gas canister, the Ugandan Human Rights Network for Journalists told CPJ. Nakyanzi, who lost a tooth and severely cut her mouth, was rushed to Kadic Clinic for treatment. Security officers sprayed pepper spray at the Jinja-based Voice of Bugosa reporter, David Lukakama, local journalists told CPJ. Officers also kicked and beat NTV journalist Isaac Kintu as he recorded pictures of the demonstration, according to local news reports.

Journalists in Jinja have asked District Police Commander Jonathan Musinguzi to explain why policemen under his command fired teargas at them, the Ugandan daily New Vision reported. The police commander apologized to the journalists and said the perpetrators would be investigated and dealt with accordingly.

In a separate development last week, a new police division, the Special Investigations Unit, called senior reporter Tabu Butagira of the Daily Monitor in for questioning over his February 28 published interview with the leader of the opposition group Forum for Democratic Change, Kiiza Besigye, Butagira told CPJ.

According to a consortium of civil society groups called the Democracy Monitoring Group, the Uganda elections were marred with irregularities. The election-monitoring group alleged that more than 400,000 registered voters were actually foreigners and 5,000 were over 110 years of age, for instance.