New York, March 29, 2012—Ugandan police officers attacked three journalists as they covered the release on bail of jailed opposition leader Kizza Besigye on Wednesday, according to news reports. The journalists are seeking medical treatment for their injuries.
Police attacked the journalists as Besigye was leaving the court where he had faced charges of organizing an opposition demonstration last week in which a police officer was killed, according to news reports.
“Ugandan police are engaged in a cynical cycle in which they beat journalists covering opposition events, apologize afterward, and then repeat their unacceptable behavior,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Top police officials must send a clear message that they will not tolerate violence against the press and will hold their subordinates responsible for unprofessional and criminal behavior.”
Siraje Lubwama, a reporter for the private thrice-weekly The Observer, told CPJ that a police officer slapped him in the face and ordered his detention, even though the journalist had showed his press credentials. “They took me inside a police cell and continued to beat me, stole 150,000 Ugandan shillings (US$40), and one of my mobile phones. I remember one saying they could beat me here since there were no cameras inside the cell,” the journalist told CPJ. Lubwama, who was held only briefly, told CPJ he sought medical treatment today for pain in his head, jaw, and limbs, and had filed a police complaint against the officer.
Officers also struck Joseph Mutebi, a reporter for the state daily Bukedde, with batons as he was taking photographs, the journalist and his colleagues told CPJ. Mutebi tried to file a complaint at the Central Police Station but police denied him access, he told CPJ. He is receiving treatment at a hospital in Kampala, he said.
Hasifah Wanyana, a journalist from the private Kingdom FM radio station, was also beaten by police, she told CPJ. “I have pains everywhere. They beat me with batons,” she said. Wanyana told CPJ she was dissuaded from filing a police report after Mutebi was denied access. She said she planned to seek medical treatment on Friday.
In a press conference on Thursday, Police Inspector General Kale Kayihura apologized for the attack against the reporters, local journalists told CPJ. Calls to Kayihura and Police Spokesman Asuman Mugenyi were not answered immediately.
This attack comes a little over a week after journalists Edward Echwalu and Anatoli Luswa were beaten while covering Besigye’s arrest. CPJ cited 41 cases of attacks against the press during elections and opposition-led protests in Uganda last year.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The text of this alert has been modified to reflect the correct spelling of Kizza Besigye’s name.