Attacks on journalists in what looks like a sustained campaign to silence the media must stop.
On Wednesday, armed men and women from one of the dreaded units of the UPDF clobbered reporters and other innocent citizens. The journalists were pursued, battered like cows, with some now injured and using crutches.
The journalists begged for mercy and even apologised for doing their work. They were covering Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, as he delivered a petitioned to the UN human rights offices in Kampala. Seven soldiers have since appeared before disciplinary committee over weak charges of conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline of the UPDF and sentenced to detention in barracks. What a mockery!
The message from this bogus disciplinary process points to a related and more endemic problem creeping into the management of public affairs. This charade demands an urgent need to scrutinise the ways security organs intimidate and undermine journalists and news reporting in the country.
The spectacle of criminals being handled with kid gloves in a disciplinary committee of the military police unit is a sign of the travesty of justice in yet another case of security aggression against journalists. This drama of a despicable prosecution of villains in army uniform tells the real story of impunity. The men and women who battered journalists should be tried in a serious court as a sign of determination to end impunity.
Our view is that these attacks on journalists in what looks like a sustained campaign to silence the media must stop. The wanton attacks on journalists and other innocent civilians have brought armed forces impunity to the fore. Journalism is not a crime, and journalists are not the enemy of the State but public watchdogs. On January 12, 2015, former WBS TV journalist Andrew Lwanga was battered by the former Old Kampala DPC Joram Mwesigye. He sustained head, chest and nerve injuries, which affected his ability to walk and work. Lwanga suffered serious permanent neurological damages.
In 2018, soldiers also beat up James Akena as he covered Bobi Wine protests in Kampala. Akena was on his knees as armed soldiers clobbered him. His equipment was confiscated. NTV journalists Ronald Galiwango and Juma Kirya as well as Observer photographer Alfred Ochwo were also assaulted. NTV’s Herbert Zziwa and Ronald Muwanga were beaten up as they reported live from Arua, following the killing of Bobi Wine’s driver Mr Yasin Kawuma. They were later charged with the “dubious” offence of incitement to violence and malicious damage to property. We, therefore, appeal to the President to move in and bring to law the errant security organs and remind IGP Martin Okoth-Ochola and others, that journalists aren’t the enemy, but the fanatical men and women in army and police uniform, who target innocent and defenceless journalists and other civilians with impunity.