Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 2145 EAT on Wednesday 20th July 2022.
For the country’s journalists, the election year 2021 and its immediate aftermath, 2022, have been years of unease and unrest.
Local journalists have shown the world the devastating effects of corruption, election campaigns, opposition protests, and brutal security crackdowns. Now, many who wrote or aired these reports have paid the price. They have been arrested and beaten and some have fled the country.
In February last year, 2021, at least eight journalists were battered as they covered former presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentumu aka Bobi Wine on his way to deliver a petition to the office of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Kololo.
In April 2021, Robert Kagolo, a journalist working with Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), was shot and killed by Local Defence Unit (LDU) personnel in Kasengejje, Wakiso district.
Over time, a few culprits in police and the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) have been prosecuted in the Court Martial or civilian courts while commanders of the brutal attacks walked scot-free. The culprits have since been handed lighter sentences, which have not deterred security officials from attacking journalists.
Since January 2022, over 10 journalists have been attacked and some have fled the country. Interviewed for this story, some journalists claimed that nothing has been done to bring the alleged perpetrators to book.
Eric James Sawani, a journalist with Sabiny FM in Bukwo, was earlier this year attacked by unknown people moments after hosting a show about corruption. He was hospitalized at Bukwo hospital. The Observer has established that Lawrence Kitatta, a journalist working with Vision Group, fled the country. He claimed that security operatives were trailing him.
Another Vision Group journalist Brenda Nakayiwa was attacked by an unknown assailant at her home in Kiteezi. The journalists have not succeeded in getting their tormentors arrested or their cases investigated.
On March 10, nine journalists working with Alternative Digitalk, an online publication were picked from their media house and detained. The journalists included Arnold Musoke, Faridah Bikobere, Jeremiah Mukiibi, Kato Tumusiime, Lilian Luwedde, Teangel Nabukeera, Rogers Turyahabwe, and Jacob Wabyona.
ERIC JAMES SAWANI
Eric James Sawani, who works at Sabiny FM in Bukwo district, was admitted last month to Bukwo hospital. He was kidnapped and beaten up by unknown people shortly after hosting a show
about corruption. He was dumped along Bukwo river bank where passersby found him in the morning.
On February 22, a security officer beat up a journalist who was covering a demonstration at the then deputy Speaker of Parliament Anita Among’s (now Speaker of Parliament) residence. The soldier attached to the Special Forces Command, who was guarding Among’s home in Nakasero, Kampala, allegedly beat up Lawrence Kitatta, a journalist working with Vision Group.
Interviewed later, Kitatta claimed he was being trailed by plain-clothes security operatives. He lodged a complaint at Jinja Road police station under number GEF: 14/2022. Police, however, are yet to release the investigation report. Kitatta allegedly fled the country.
On January 27, another Vision Group journalist Brenda Nakayiwa was attacked by an unknown person while she was working at her home. Nakayiwa said she worked at home from around 5:35am. She said after her husband left at around 6:40am to take their youngest child to school, she heard someone opening the rear door.
On checking, she found a strange man already in the kitchen. He hit her with a brick on the head. He punched her in the face, shoulder, and chest several times.
“When I saw the brick aimed at my head, I thought I was going to die, I tried to fight back but he was so powerful. I sustained injuries,” she said.
The man only took her phone. She was rushed to hospital. She also opened up a case at Kiteezi Community police station under number SD REF: 06/27/01/2022. Todate, the attacker is still at large. She is still living in fear for her life.
Interviewed for this story, Fred Enanga, the police spokesperson, promised to follow up on the three cases of Nakayiwa, Kitatta and Sawani. He said several culprits have been tried and sentenced for battering journalists.
“Many journalists have not reported these cases to police for investigations or Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) or Uganda Journalists Association (UJA). Last year, some of our officers were involved in an altercation with journalists at Kololo but the matter was not reported to us for investigation.
So, we take interest in those cases reported to us for investigation,” Enanga said.
Enanga said police are set to engage with journalists under the Uganda Parliamentary Reporters Association, UJA and other umbrella bodies to improve their relationship.
“There has been a significant and massive reduction in the number of police involvement in cases of assault of journalists. We have tried to improve the police’s relationship with journalists,” he said.
Last year, the Military Police Unit Disciplinary Committee, the lower court of the Court Martial, charged seven soldiers with assaulting journalists near the United Nations offices. They were charged, convicted and sentenced for conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). They were sentenced to two months while others were cautioned.
In 2017, Buganda Road Grade One Magistrate sentenced the former Old Kampala District Police Commander (DPC) Joram Mwesigye for battering Andrew Lwanga, then a freelance journalist attached to the defunct WBS Television.
Court ordered him to compensate the journalist with Shs 5m and pay a Shs 1m fine to the court within 30 days or serve one year in prison.