Joram Mwesigye, the former Old Kampala district police commander convicted of assaulting a journalist, walked off lightly after Friday’s ruling, which handed him a Shs 6m fine, ending a trial that spanned two years and four magistrates.
Buganda Road Court grade one magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu convicted Mwesigye for brutally assaulting former WBS TV journalist Andrew Lwanga. But the ruling angered many journalists, who called it a travesty of justice.
By 9am, journalists armed with cameras trooped into Kamasanyu’s court room filling it to capacity. The magistrate however, seemingly unbothered by the huge media attention on Lwanga’s case, first handled other cases.
Kamasanyu later bragged about her delay to deliver the ruling.
“You’re [journalists] scaring my people,” Kamasanyu said in court as she continued to handle other cases. “That’s why I had to give this ruling last…”
Lwanga turned up in a light blue fitting shirt and black fitting khaki trousers, and propped up on crutches after Mwesigye’s beatings. Seven hours later, at around 3pm, with journalists clearly agitated by the delay, Kamasanyu began reading the judgment. At first journalists stamped their feet when Kamasanyu convicted Mwesigye on the charge of common assault, which carries a maximum jail term of five years.
But minutes later, the magistrate ordered Mwesigye to pay a fine of Shs 1m within one month or be imprisoned for one year. Kamasanyu, who was being booed, also ordered Mwesigye to directly give Lwanga Shs 5m within a month.
Interviewed for a comment after the ruling, Abubaker Lubowa, a photojournalist with Daily Monitor, who covers riotous situations, said Kamasanyu’s ruling has left journalists exposed.
“This ruling will leave us [Journalists] exposed,” Lubowa said, “During riots or demonstrations policemen will just kick or beat us up, after all courts cannot send them to jail…”
Lubowa was shocked that Kamasanyu disregarded the crippling effect of the beating on Lwanga’s life.
“I cannot pay fees for my child because now I no longer work,” a teary Lwanga had said during the trial. “My family has gone through a lot of things that I cannot say in this court because they are ashaming…”
Taken aback by the gravity of the injuries, Kamasanyu had asked prosecution why they had charged Mwesigye with the minor charge of “common assault” which attracts a lighter sentence. Prosecutors gave no answer.
On Friday, Robert Sempala, the executive director of the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, said Kamasanyu’s ruling was “an insult to journalists.”
“We believe that justice was defeated, which sets a more dangerous trend as many [journalists] will be more exposed to attacks from powerful people who can pay their way to avoid jail,” Sempala said.
Other journalists said it was as if court was telling other policemen that it’s okay to batter journalists on duty.
Prosecution alleged that on January 12, 2015 at Namirembe road in Kampala, Mwesigye assaulted Lwanga, who was covering a demonstration by a group of unemployed youth, and damaged hisnervous system.
Mwesigye was also accused of damaging two video cameras, one belonging to Lwanga and another belonging to Joseph Ssetimba of the Vision Group, but he was acquitted.
When it came to the charge of tearing Ssetimba’s trousers, despite video footage showing the torn trousers, the magistrate ruled that prosecution had failed to prove that the said trousers belonged to Ssetimba, forcing journalist to boo her.
“Please respect me because I respect you,” Kamasanyu fumed. “If you’re not happy then just go out, OK?” from the faces in the courtroom it was not OK.