Kampala, 27th/July/2012; a number of journalists were violently dispersed by the police in Kampala, leaving two injured and a photo camera shuttered.The journalists were July 26thcovering a story where the police were blocking the city Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago with some Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) councilors from effecting a court decision to re-open the city’s district land board offices which had been shut by the KCCA Executive Director Jennifer Musisi.
The victim journalists included Chris Ssemakula working with Record Television. He was tear-gassed with pepper spray and assaulted twice as he tried to free the scene. He told HRNJ-Uganda that he was recording the events when he heard the operation commander order that the journalists be dispersed.
“I was recording the events when the operation police Commander Onesmus Mwesigwa ordered for the disperse of journalists. A police officer I could hardly recognize tear-gassed us, and as I was running away with my video camera, another one hit me with a baton on my right arm and in the back. I displayed my company Identity Card but he did not listen. I am undergoing a lot of pain. I am going to open up a case file.” He said.
Another victim was Daily Monitor’s photojournalist Lubowa Abubaker who was tear-gassed and hit with a baton by the police. His still camera was shattered when hit with a baton.
“I had my camera and was carefully taking photos at KCCA when a police officer holding a gun ordered that, ‘beat them, beat them’. They tear-gassed me, so I ran for dear life. During the scuffle, a policeman hit me in the back and my camera. Its lenses were shattered. I feel a lot of pain especially when I bend down.
Nkalubo Hannington a journalist with the government owned Bukedde paper was directly sprayed with pepper in the face. “I could not see the way because I was tear-gassed straight in the face but I managed to run for dear life. I think the police acted brutally against the journalists whom they clearly knew were doing their work. That’s where the police go wrong.” He told HRNJ-Uganda.
Other journalist victims of the tear-gas included K-FM’s Hadijah Mwanje (the HRNJ-Uganda’s Executive Board Vice Chairperson), Ivan Kabbale of NBS TV, among others
“The Police are turning out to be a big threat to media freedom in Uganda. It topped in the mid-year report on the state of the media. The police should desist from criminalizing the work of journalists who cover opposition related activities. The officers responsible should be held accountable for this brutal handling of the journalists.” Said the HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator, Wokulira Ssebaggala