KAMPALA – The Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) has called for a swift Police investigation on the alleged assault by one of its members by Aruu County Member of Parliament, Odonga Otto.
NUMEC alleges that Geoffrey Okot, 29, a journalist with the Gulu-based Choice FM claims was punched on the neck by Mr. Odonga Otto at Pece Stadium in Gulu town on Sunday afternoon last week while covering a football match between West Nile and Acholi Province.
The journalists under their umbrella organization NUMEC say they concerned by these allegations against a Member of Parliament who is expected to be exemplary in society.
“NUMEC calls on police in Gulu—where an assault case against Otto was lodged by Okot—to swiftly conclude investigations on the matter to enable timely delivery of justice to the victim,” they wrote in a statement sent to PML Daily.
The group adds: “Threats against journalists whether physical or otherwise undermine the ability of journalists to collect, process, and disseminate timely information critical for informed choice by the public”.
Uganda Human Rights Network for Journalists speaks out
According to the Uganda Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ-Uganda), the incident happened as Mr Okot, together with his fellow journalists, were set to cover a football match between Acholi Province and West Nile Province on Sunday organized by Federation of Uganda Foot Ball Association (FUFA) Drum at Pece War Memorial Stadium. The journalists had convened at a point reserved for them by the football authorities.
However, before the match could start, spectators moved close to the pitch prompting the area leaders that include among others Mr Otto, Mr Gilbert Olanya, Mr Anthony Akol to push them away so as to create space.
Mr Otto is alleged to have moved to the area where the journalists had convened and punched Okot on the back and around the neck. Okot reportedly tried to explain that he is a journalist but the Member of Parliament could not stop beating him up.
“I was squatting at the stadium with my fellow colleagues waiting for the match to begin. From nowhere, Odonga Otto punched me around the neck and the back until I knelt down. I explained to him that I am a journalist but he was arrogant. He said he doesn’t care because I am a journalist from a fake media house,” Mr Okot told HRNJ-Uganda, adding that he is experiencing a lot of pain and is expected to meet an orthopedic at Gulu Referral Hospital for further management.
Okot’s narrative is corroborated by Willy Ochwoo, a fellow journalist who was at the scene.
“We were about 20 journalists accredited by FUFA Drum organisers to cover the match. In the area where we were squatting, spectators had drone close to the pitch forcing the area members of parliament to push them backwards. Okot was squatting at the extreme end where the journalists had convened. From nowhere, Hon. Odonga Otto punched him on the back and the neck,” Mr Chowoo told HRNJ-Uganda.
Okot opened up an assault case at Gulu Central Police Station vide 50/16/06/2019 and is yet to record a statement.
When contacted, the Regional Spokesperson for Aswa Region, Mr Jimmy Okema, said, “I have not got details about that concern because the Deputy IGP was around and we spent the whole of yesterday traversing the region. I am also getting concern from some journalists trying to inquire about the same incident. But if i get the details, I will let you know,” said, Okema.
‘It is so disheartening that an area Member of Parliament who is expected to be exemplary to the people he leads beat up a journalist. We condemn such actions in the strongest terms. We implore the Uganda Police to expeditiously handle the matter so that the journalist gets justice.” Said the HRNJ-Uganda Executive Director, Robert Ssempala.