Nairobi, August 8, 2018--Authorities in Uganda should rigorously investigate two attacks on journalist Damba Wiziri that occurred while he was covering a recent national parliamentary election in Sheema Municipality, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Wiziri, who works for the majority state-owned Vision Group's print, television, and online platforms, was attacked on July 27 and 30, according to Sheikh Abdulatif, a journalist who witnessed both incidents and works for a Vison Group subsidiary, and a report by the media rights organization, the Human Rights Network for Journalists- Uganda (HRNJ-U).
"The police should expedite investigations into the attacks on journalist Damba Wiziri and hold those responsible to account," said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ Sub Saharan Africa Representative. "The media plays a crucial role in ensuring the transparency of elections, and any obstruction of coverage makes one wonder what officials are trying to hide."
The July 30 assault occurred while Wiziri was covering a demonstration by members of an opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), who were protesting the parliamentary election results, the journalist told CPJ. Wiziri told CPJ that he was photographing the demonstrators while riding a boda boda, a motorcycle taxi, when an attacker pulled him from the back of the boda boda and dragged him into the nearby offices of the Integrated Community Based Initiatives (ICOBI), a health-focused non-governmental organization associated with the winner of the Sheema parliamentary election and Uganda's science minister, Elioda Tumwesigye.
Inside the office building, four men, at least one of whom Wiziri recognized as an ICOBI employee, punched him, kicked him, and attempted to strangle him, the journalist said. The attackers also confiscated Wiziri's camera, bag, and phone, and later gave them to the police, he said.
The journalist yesterday told CPJ that he had throat pain and suffered minor injuries to his arms and chest.
Abdulatif and Wiziri said that police officers, including Sheema District Police Commander Hillary Mukiza, watched the assault but did not intervene.
Tumwesigye today told CPJ that none of the NGO's employees had been involved in the assault on Wiziri. Rather, he said, a contracted security guard had taken the journalist's camera amidst a scuffle after protesters tried to storm the ICOBI offices. Tumwesigye said that the journalist's assault claims were exaggerated to hurt his reputation and that of ICOBI.
Wiziri and Abdulatif told CPJ that the July 27 attack occurred at Kikonko Primary School, which was serving as a polling station, when a local government official, Amanya Jordan, obstructed and manhandled Wiziri, preventing him from filming.
When called for comment by CPJ on August 7, Jordan, who is also a director of local, privately owned radio station BFM, said that he was suspicious of the journalist's motives and that he was reacting to repeated attempts to photograph the car. Some journalists, he said, had even tried to open the car doors.
One of BFM's managing editors, Jonas Tumwiine, was a candidate in the election.
WIziri told CPJ he reported both assaults to the police.
Mercy Oyeki, a Vision Group lawyer, today told CPJ that the journalist's phone and bag had been returned though police continue to hold his camera as evidence.
Mukiza on August 7 referred CPJ to the police's public relations personnel for comment about the assaults.
When initially reached for comment on August 6, Uganda police spokesperson Emilian Kayima said that the DPC Mukiza had denied being present during the attack on the journalist. Kayima yesterday told CPJ that police were investigating reports on the assault and a claim that the DPC had failed to investigate the case once the attackers were initially identified.