A new report has accused Police of being a leading abuser of press freedoms and rights in Uganda, adding to its notoriety as the most corrupt government entity.
According to the 2015 press freedom index report published by the Human rights network for journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U), the police accounts for 75 percent of abuse cases against journalists documented last year.
A total 143 cases were documented by the organization and of them, 107 cases against journalists were committed by the police. This is 67 cases more than what was recorded against the police in 2014 despite assurances from the police leadership of a better working relationship between the force and journalists.
“The violations include assault, inhumane treatment, and detention and release without charge. Journalists were brutally assaulted, arrested and their cameras confiscated for taking [pictures] of the police using extreme force [against] suspects especially during public meetings and demonstrations,” Robert Ssempala, the HRNJ-U national coordinator, said on Tuesday during the launch of the report at Imperial Royale hotel, Kampala.
A case in point of police brutality is that of WBS TV cameraman Andrew Lwanga who was battered by former Old Kampala division police commander (DPC) Joram Mwesigye.
Lwanga was incapacitated and is scheduled to undergo spinal cord surgery. Ssempala also cites other cases of journalists who were shot at in Jinja, Mityana and Wakaliga, a Kampala suburb.
Apart from the Old Kampala DPC’s case that is currently before the Buganda Road chief magistrate’s court, the organization has failed to successfully prosecute other cases against police officers because they were “dismissed by the police leadership as mere actions of individual officers.”
“The police has dubbed the media as opposition leaning and thus deserving what they were getting,” Ssempala said.
The general public comes second to the police in the violation of press freedoms with 25 cases documented last year from the different parts of country. The report also reports five cases of violations orchestrated by resident district commissioners (RDCs) and four by media owners.
“Self-censorship increased among journalists working for media houses owned by politicians or businessmen affiliated to the ruling NRM. Journalists hosting programs on governance issues fell victim of witch-hunt and summary dismissal for hosting opposition politicians,” Ssempala said.
The press freedom index report also lists Uganda prison services, the UPDF and private security guards among the perpetrators of the violations although their cases are not as pronounced as those of the police.
The head of the media crimes desk at the criminal investigations and intelligence department, Simon Kuteesa defended the police actions against journalists saying in the era of growing terrorism, the police cannot distinguish between a journalist and a terrorist.
“Whenever somebody poses with a camera, he attracts extra attention from the police because some can pose as journalists yet in actual sense are terrorists,” Kuteesa said.
He also protested the report’s description of the police as the champion of brutality, further urging media practioners not to demonise the police because they too suffer during riot situations.