August 20th 2018 was an infamous day for several Ugandan journalists.
Caught in the thick of the “Free Bobi Wine” protests in the Ugandan capital Kampala; few would have imagined or predicted the mauling that was to befall them later as they went about their journalistic grind.
The day started off, placid, barring the ominous clouds that hovered over the Kampala city horizon.
Not many people however would tell that the ominous clouds were warning signs of imminent protests and a subsequent Police and Army crackdown on protesters and Journalists.
While trying to pacify some tense parts of the city, irate soldiers turned their rage on unsuspecting journalists, severely hitting them with sticks.
James Akena of the Reuters Wire News agency took the heaviest brunt of the beatings.
Even as he raised his hands and camera up as if, to alert the soldiers that he was a journalist, the beatings continued.
Akena's camera was destroyed in the process.
Other journalists were also beaten, chased and many lost their mobile phones and recorders; among other gadgets.
With tears rolling out of his eyes, Akena narrates his ordeal to Masaachronicle.
“I suffered injuries to my head, spine and hand and to make it worse, I was detained without charges. I was traumatized,” the bedridden Akena says.
Akena plaintively explains that his family suffered psychologically after watching the incident on the Prime time 9 o’clock news on NTV, a local Television station.
“What exacerbated their worries was the fact that they could not reach me.
They were concerned and at the same time, furious.”
Casting his mind, Akena says if only he had intuitively known what was to befall him; he would not have gone to cover the protests.
“It was incumbent upon me to cover the protests but had I foreseen what happened, I would have stayed away from that area,” Akena says.
Alfred Ocho, a freelance photo journalist with the Observer newspaper in Kampala who was also assaulted during the protests.
“I was mauled just like Akena but whilst he can meet his medical bills and get a camera replacement, am hard pressed as a freelance journalist because I earn pittance. Iam a hard place now as I have to get treatment and repair my camera,” Ocho says.
Ocho reveals that he was hit on the head with a baton, as he took pictures of the rioters.
“My shirt was torn in the process and I also lost some money [Ugandan sh200, 000], a phone and to add insult to his pain, his camera got spoilt in the process,” Ocho says.
The Ugandan Parliament takes a stand
In a joint press briefing, recently at the Ugandan parliament, in Kampala, several workers MP’s called upon the army and the police to replace the Journalist’s damaged equipment and pay for their medical treatment.
Led by Margret Rwabushaija, Agnes Kunihira, Ngora County MP,
David Abala and Kasambya County MP, Mbwatekamwa Gafa, the MP’s castigated the country’s security forces for the draconian treatment of the journalists.
“We watched with dismay the brutal manner in which the security forces
mauled members of the fourth estate, principally James Akena, Herbert Zziwa, Ronald Galiwango[ both of NTV]and others. We abhor the maltreatment of Journalists,” Rwabushaija said.
The MP’s added that the beating of the Journalists was a violation of their rights and freedoms, which were guaranteed by Article 29 of the Ugandan constitution.
Luke Owesigire, the Kampala metropolitan Police spokesperson says
they had begun earnest investigations to establish who beat the Journalists and to ascertain how they lost some of their gadgets.
“Whoever tortured the Journalists will be held accountable. If they were Police men, the Ugandan Police will deal with them, according to the law. If they were soldiers of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces and its proven that they were culpable, the Army will deal with them in accordance with the law,” Owesigire said.
Uganda Journalists Association president Robert Kagolo says they are still demanding for the prosecution of the Army or Police officers complicit in the beatings of the Journalists.
The protests in the Ugandan Capital-Kampala- came in the wake of the arrest of Bobi Wine alias Robert Kyagulanyi, the popular and firebrand Kyadondo East Member of Parliament after the Arua Municipality by election.
Arua is in the West Nile region of Uganda.
Wine was arrested on allegations that he was an accessory in the stoning of the Ugandan President’s Motorcade, a few hours before the election.
President Museveni was in Arua to canvas support for the ruling NRM party’s candidate, Nusura Tiperu, who, lost, at length.
Wine was also in Arua to canvas support for his preferred candidate, Kasiano Wadri. Wadri won the by election.
Earlier, Wine’s driver Yasin Kawuma, had been shot dead.
Wine was also accused of being in possession of illegal firearms, that where apparently found in his hotel room.
The owner of the Hotel, Candia Luiji however denied that Wine checked into his facility with any firearms.
Several Lawmakers were arrested in the wake of the Arua by election; to wit, Francis Zaake (Mityana Municipality), Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) and Paul Mwiru (Jinja Municipality).
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