Ugandan journalists Eddy Enuru (left) and Simon Peter Emwamu (right) were recently harassed while covering a local election. (Screenshot: YouTube/NTVUganda)

Ugandan journalists robbed, assaulted while covering election

On June 14, 2023, unidentified people assaulted or harassed at least four reporters covering local elections in the eastern Uganda district of Bukedea, according to a report by the privately owned broadcaster NTV Uganda, a statement by the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U) local press rights group, and three of those journalists, who spoke to CPJ.

At about 7 a.m., a man in plainclothes confronted broadcast reporter Eddy Enuru as he prepared to begin live coverage of the elections from the Bukedea Township Polling Station, according to Enuru, who works for the private broadcaster NBS and is the region’s bureau chief, and Simon Peter Emwamu, another journalist who witnessed the incident.

The man grabbed Enuru’s tripod and a phone he planned to use to film, and slapped the journalist several times across his face and neck, according to Enuru and Emwamu, who works with the Daily Monitor, a newspaper owned by NTV Uganda’s parent company. The assailant did not identify himself.

About 20 minutes later, the attacker drove away from the scene after giving Enuru’s phone and tripod to police officers, who returned the devices to the journalist. Enuru told CPJ that he suffered bruising to his chin and neck, received a medical check-up at a local hospital, and filed a complaint about the assault at the Bukedea Central Police Station.

Separately, a group of about 10 people who identified themselves as security personnel but were dressed in plain clothes told Emwamu to keep his distance from the polling station, saying that they were holding a security meeting.

When Emwamu identified himself as a reporter and asked why they were holding a security meeting at a polling station, one man confiscated his phone and his camera and held it for a few minutes before returning it.

Emwamu and Enuru told CPJ that they believed the attacks were meant to stop them from covering alleged irregularities in the election. The elections, in which a ruling party candidate emerged victorious, were marred by violence against opposition candidates and allegations of ballot-stuffing.

In a separate incident on the morning of June 14, unidentified men robbed two local radio journalists, Continental FM reporter John Bosco Ojojo and Mama Bukedea FM reporter George Emuron, who were also covering the elections, according to Ojojo and the HRNJ-U statement.

Ojojo told CPJ that he and Emuron, who also contributes to the Daily Monitor, were riding together on a motorcycle after making a reporting stop at a polling station at the Tamula Primary School, when the riders of a second motorcycle hailed them to stop.

“We thought they knew us, or they wanted to ask us a question. When we stopped one of them approached us and said: ‘your life or your gadgets, which one are you giving us?’” Ojojo said.

The two journalists handed over a laptop, audio recorder, and two smartphones. The assailants’ faces were covered with masks and their motorcycle’s registration plates were also covered, Ojojo said. The journalists reported the robbery at the Bukedea Central Police Station later that day.

In a June 14 interview with NTV-Uganda, regional police spokesperson Oscar Ageca said that police were investigating Enuru’s complaint. In a phone interview on July 5, Ageca told CPJ that investigations were ongoing into the assault on Enuru and robbery of Ojojo and Emuron, but said the inquiry was frustrated because the suspects were not known to the journalists. Ageca told CPJ that police were still trying to trace the stolen laptop and smartphones.

Local media reported that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on June 26 ordered a presidential anti-corruption unit to investigate allegations of irregularities around the Bukedea by-election and to “take action” if any wrongdoing was identified.