In Uganda, mob assaults radio journalists

February 9, 2015 9:52 AM ET

A group of about 30 men with clubs attacked journalists Gerald Kankya and Simon Amanyire in the town of Fort Portal in western Uganda on January 23, 2015, Kankya told CPJ. The assailants beat the journalists, breaking one of Kankya's teeth and bruising his legs and arms, the journalist said. Amanyire escaped without serious injury.

Kankya said the assailants tried to grab a file from him that contained documents from the Twerwaneho Listeners Club (TLC), but failed to do so. He said they fled on motorcycles.

Kankya told CPJ that he heard Fort Portal District Police Commander Geoffrey Kahebwa order the attack. Kankya also said that the next day, when he tried to file a complaint, a police officer told him that the Fort Portal police commander had given orders not to take any police statement filed by a TLC staff member.

Kahebwa denied involvement in the attack to CPJ and said he had jurisdiction only over police, not the public.

A week before the attack, TLC had aired a program in which it alleged the Tooro royal family in western Uganda had acquired land illegally to develop a commercial school project, the Queen Mother Best Kemigisa Nursery, Primary and Vocational School, Kankya said.

Kankya told CPJ the individuals who attacked them wore jackets that bore the name "Queen Mother Best Kemigisa Nursery, Primary and Vocational Schools."

Tooro Kingdom Prime Minister Stephen Kaliba denied to CPJ that the kingdom had illegally acquired land for the project and said that the royal family represented the original owners under the countries' customary land laws. Kaliba told CPJ he was not aware of the attack on TLC members.

The Twerwaneho Listeners Club, which was founded in 2006 by Kankya and his colleagues, is a local civil society organization that produces radio programs for the local radio station Better FM on human rights and governance issues. One area of focus for TLC is raising awareness and advocating for land rights for the region.

TLC temporarily suspended night radio programs citing fear of further attacks and lack of police protection.

The Twerwaneho Listeners Club has faced threats and abuse in connection with its critical commentary since it was founded in 2006. In January 2013, police temporarily detained three TLC staff members, accusing them of making defamatory statements against Uganda's first family, according to news reports. In March of that year, police suspended the TLC's bank accounts, despite Ugandan law that stipulates only courts are empowered to do so, according to reports.

On December 26, 2014, Godfrey Mutabazi, director of the state-controlled broadcast regulator the Uganda Communications Commission, ordered western Ugandan-based stations Hits FM, Gold FM, Voice of Tooro, and Better FM to stop broadcasting programs and news critical of the Tooro Kingdom Administration and the royal family, according to news reports. Mutabazi did not provide a reason for the ban and said the stations would lose their broadcast licenses if they did not comply.

Mutabazi told CPJ that he had warned the stations not to air insulting comments about the royal family because that would lead to disharmony within the local community.

Separately, on January 12, 2015, Division Police Commander of Old Kampala Police Station Joram Mwesigye assaulted Wavah Broadcasting Service reporter Andrew Lwanga while he was covering a protest in the capital, according to news reports. The police officer was arrested for the assault.

Just days later, police beat and kicked freelance journalist Brilliant Tito for attempting to take photographs of a meeting between women activists and district leaders held at the Pader Police Station in northern Uganda without permission, news reports said.

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