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Police should protect, not torture journalists

Police officers drag members of UJA to the cells centre at CPS. 

By Editorial

Journalists have called for boycott of media coverage of police activities. Their umbrella Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) has also demanded that the Force’s command accounts for the brutality and individual officers implicated brought to face justice. This blackout should compel the police and soldiers to stop their unprovoked violence against defenceless journalists. The police and army violence is escalating.
For years now, the police and soldiers have made it routine to savagely beat up journalists. Standout cases include the brutal torture of WBS TV photojournalist Andrew Lwanga by the Old Kampala Divisional Police Commander Joram Mwesigye in 2015. Mr Lwanga’s only crime was covering a procession by an unemployed youth group to seek police permission to hold rallies in Kampala.
On the same day, Bukedde TV journalist Joseph Ssettimba, was lashed with an electric cable, had his trousers torn. Mr Ssettimba’s camera and that of Herbert Zziwa of Nation Media Group Uganda’s K-FM radio, were destroyed.
Similarly, Mr James Akena, a photojournalist with Reuters, was brutalised on August 20, 2018, as he covered protests against the torture and detention of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine.
As a result, Mr Akena has been disabled and confined to a wheelchair. In the latest instance, at least 20 journalists have been assaulted and injured in the course of their duty as they covered the Makerere University protests against increased tuition fees.
These violent acts by police and soldiers are targeted to maim journalists, destroy their tools of trade, including cameras, and intimidate them from getting out the brutal violence by armed forces against defenceless citizens.
This is why it should be now that we impress it on the police and soldiers that journalists have a right to practice their trade and it is not up to the police and soldiers to direct them. Also this is why UJA’s call for boycott or suspension of online, print and broadcast of any police activities is exactly right.
This suspension of media coverage of police activities should compel the security agencies to realise that media is critical in mediating law and order and security matters between them and citizens. Perhaps by this boycott, the police and soldiers will realise that journalists need to work unhindered, access sources and records, and visit scenes of events, including strikes. This is how journalists and the media play their roles, as public watchdogs facilitate outreach, and educate the public about daily events and issues and how they affect wananchi.
The Force should squarely face up to the eight points demanded by UJA to check the escalating brutality against journalists. The time is now for the police to undertake an irreversible commitment to protect the rights of journalists to practice their trade unfettered