Journalists are seen while being attacked at the headquarters of the Forum for Democratic Change in Kampala, Uganda, on July 20. At least seven journalists were recently attacked at news conferences in Uganda. (Photo: Nile Post)

At least 7 Ugandan journalists assaulted, robbed at news conferences

Nairobi, July 31, 2023—Ugandan authorities should investigate and prosecute those responsible for assaulting, robbing, and harassing seven journalists at two separate news conferences, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

On July 20, unidentified men punched and kicked at least six journalists at the headquarters of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in the capital city of Kampala and stole several of their mobile phones, according to media reports and five of the journalists, who spoke to CPJ.

In a separate incident that day, John Xerxes Ogulei, a reporter with the privately owned Teso Broadcasting Services, told CPJ that a police officer insulted him and slapped his hand, knocking his phone and tripod to the ground and breaking them. The Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, a local rights group, tweeted a photograph of his broken tripod.

Ogulei told CPJ he was among journalists waiting to cover a meeting held by Local Government Minister Raphael Magyezi in the eastern city of Soroti when the officer accused them of harming the government’s image through their coverage and assaulted him.

“It is unacceptable that violence has become an everyday hazard for journalists on the political beat in Uganda,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “The attacks on John Xerxes Ogulei and the journalists attending an FDC news conference in Kampala should be investigated impartially and those responsible held to account. The journalists should also be compensated for damaged and stolen equipment.”

Violence began at the headquarters of the FDC—Uganda’s biggest opposition party until the 2021 elections—after party chairperson Wasswa Birigwa invited journalists to a briefing but security guards barred them from entering the compound, according to media reports and the journalists who spoke to CPJ.

Birigwa said he was held hostage at the FDC headquarters amid a power struggle inside the party. Following an hours-long standoff, about 10 people believed to be Birigwa supporters arrived, demanding his release and banging on the gate. Another group of men exited the party headquarters and started beating and punching the journalists and the Birigwa supporters, according to news reports and the journalists who spoke to CPJ.

Charles Katabalwa, a reporter with the Catholic station Radio Sapientia, told CPJ that one assailant stole his phone while another kicked him in the back. Moses Waiswa, a reporter with the privately owned Busoga One FM radio station, told CPJ that one man slapped him, punched him in the face, and stole his phone. Joseph Balikuddembe of the privately owned station CBS FM told CPJ that he was punched in the head, sustained a cut lip, and his phone was stolen.

Arnold Lawrence Kinsambwe, a reporter with the Christian station BTM TV and Radio Sapientia, told CPJ that he fell into a ditch while dodging a punch, and a man snatched his phone as he was trying to climb out. Another kicked him in the back and as he was running away.

Nowamani Ainembabazi, an intern with the state-owned Urban TV, was punched in the mouth twice, according to its sister company New Vision and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. She told CPJ that the assailants snatched a mobile phone from her hands, and stole her bag which contained a second phone and money. She said that her lip was split, requiring stiches, and she has lost two teeth as a result of the attack. Ainembabazi told CPJ on July 31 that she needed further medical treatment for her injuries.

Multiple media reports said that George William Katoloba of the privately owned Namirembe FM was also attacked and had his phone stolen, but did not provide specific information about that incident. When contacted by CPJ, Katoloba declined to comment, citing safety concerns.

FDC President Patrick Amuriat referred CPJ to party communications official Norman Turyatemba for comment. In a phone interview on July 31, Turyatemba said the attack was “regrettable,” the party planned to compensate the journalists for their stolen devices, and was negotiating compensation for the journalists’ medical care.

Birigwa told CPJ that he was “disgusted” by the incident and apologized to journalists for the attack. Both Birigwa and Turyatemba said that the party would carry out internal investigations and hold those responsible to account.

In a statement sent to CPJ via messaging app on July 31, Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango said that investigations into the incident were ongoing and that police were analyzing CCTV footage and tracking stolen phones, but no arrests had been made.

National police spokesperson Fred Enanga did not respond to a request for comment sent via text message, including about the assault on Ogulei in Soroti.

CPJ has frequently documented attacks on journalists covering politics in Uganda. Last month, four reporters covering local elections in Uganda were also assaulted.