Kampala, Uganda | URN | The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) say seven officers attached to military police have been charged for assaulting journalists — a day after they covered former Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine near the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), where he had gone to deliver a petition about a spate of abductions and disappearances of his supporters.
The seven, all facing assault charges, are Capt Jessy Odwenyi, Cpl Nimusiima Justine, Pte Wasswa Peter, Pte Tsame Imran, Pte Kisakye Victoria, Pte Opiyo Isaac and L/Cpl Zirimenya Kassim.
The accused were taken to military court hours after the Chief of Defense Forces-CDF Gen. David Muhoozi apologized to journalists and the media fraternity over his forces’ violent attack on them yesterday.
“The Military Police Unit Disciplinary Committee (UDC) the lower court of the Court Martial, today 18th February 2021 has convened and deliberated on its officer and militants who misbehaved and assaulted members of the fourth estate at Prince Charles lane in Kololo Kampala,” Ministry of Defense and Veterans affairs Deputy Spokesperson, Lt. Col Akiiki said on Thursday 18th, February 2021.
While covering National Unity Platform (NUP) Kyagulanyi’s petition submission to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights on alleged human rights violations, the military police descended on journalists who had camped near the Ethiopian embassy having been denied access to the UN compound and beat them up.
A number of journalists sustained injuries some of which were very serious and needed medical attention. Today, the CDF flanked by the spokespersons of the UPDF Brig. Flavia Byekwaso and Deo Akiiki said they regret yesterday’s events and vowed to bring to account the perpetrators.
“On behalf of the UPDF, I ask for forgiveness because what happened yesterday were individual mistakes and we shall do everything to see that those responsible are held to account according to UDF laws,” Muhoozi said. “No one sent them. When we deploy our forces we give them rules of engagement but this time they went beyond these rules.”
The CDF added that as the UPDF, they are going to meet the treatment costs of those who sustained injuries. “We cannot reverse what happened but we shall assist them to get treatment,” he said.
“The lessons we learn from this incident and those before it is that when we make a mistake we apologize and then forge a way forward where all of us can do our work without clashing.”
He added that he thinks as the UPDF they should include modules in the training manual of soldiers to include the role and the way the media should be treated.
Gen. Muhoozi said they will also start using cameras in their operations to capture what happens in the field where they send their officers. This he said, will help in gathering evidence and also hold accountable their officers who go astray.
He appealed to journalist to also start moving with things that can identify them from non-journalists. “Yesterday there were some people who were not identifiable but this is not to say that when you don’t have identification then you should be beaten up but it helps a lot to resemble the job you’re doing that’s why for us we put on uniform,” Gen. Muhoozi said.
However, during yesterday’s fracas even journalists with press jackets and identity cards were not spared. Actually some of them like Irene Abalo Otto and Cliff Wamala of Daily Monitor and NTV respectively who were putting on their media labeled attires sustained more injuries.
Yesterday the United Nations called on the government to investigate what happened with a view of bringing to justice those who perpetrated the attack on journalists and other NUP supporters who had escorted Kyagulanyi.
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“Prior to the meeting, members of the Uganda Military Police used excessive force to prevent a number of persons accompanying the NUP delegation from accessing OHCHR premises,” the statement issued by the UN reads in part.
“This behaviour contravenes the agreement with the Government of Uganda regarding the safety and security of UN premises, personnel and guests as well as national and international commitments. The Republic of Uganda is a member of the United Nations and has conveyed in the past its commitment to peace, justice, human rights and development.”
According to the editors, assaulting journalists in Uganda is one of the continued sustained attacks on civil liberties including breaches to freedom of association prior and in the aftermath of 2021 General elections with the actions undoing all the efforts of constitutionalism and the rule of law that have been undertaken for many decades.
Since December last year, more than 20 journalists have been targeted and assaulted by security operatives while on duty.