KAMPALA — Journalists have staged a mass walkout from Uganda Media Center, boycotting a security press over continued harassment from security operatives, accusing the security forces of repeated brutality meted out on them during their line of duty.
Among those who led the boycott include Abubaker Lubowa of Daily Monitor and Gabriel Buule who were recently battered by the army during the pro Bobi Wine arrest in November.
At a time of escalating tensions between the media and security forces, journalists accuse them armed forces of deliberately targeting them to avoid scrutiny of their actions.
This follows the “deliberate” injuring of Ghetto TV’s Ashraf Kasirye, NTV’s Ali Mivule and NBS’s Daniel Lutaaya as they covered the National Unity Platform (NUP) Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine campaigns on Sunday.
The incident also led to the killing of Bobi Wine’s private bodyguard Frank Kalibbala Ssenteza by security forces in Busega.
Journalists said they expected an apology from the armed forces over the increasing brutality but the UPDF chief political commissar, Brig Gen Henry Masiko started by rapping them about being patriotic and professional before adding that every security operation has rules of engagement.
He seemed hesitant and not willing to apologizing about security brutality, a situation that angered reporters, forcing them to stage a mass walkout.
“They deducted my money in form of taxes every month to pay them to protect us but instead they batter us. Journalism is not a crime. We are simply doing our jobs and showing the world events as they are,” Mr Buule said.
On his part, Mr. Lubowa said security officer have categorized journalists into two groups; bad and good.
“When you cover opposition, they describe you as a bad journalist. When you cover NRM or president Musveni’s events then you’re a good journalist. For how long shall we continue like this? What do they want us to do?” Mr Lubowa noted.
On Sunday, the Uganda Editors’ Guild, a professional association for editors, senior journalists and scholars of journalism and media studies condemned the outrageous and unacceptable violence meted out by security forces including police and the army against journalists covering the ongoing general elections.
The editors jointly threatened to withdraw journalists from covering the general elections, state events over repeated harassment by security forces.
“We will continue to assess whether it is safe to continue sending out our journalists to cover these campaigns and
other public and state events,” the statement signed by Secretary, Sylvia Nankya reads in parts.
“We have arrived at a point where wearing a press jacket that clearly labels one as a journalist makes them less safe
and more likely to be targeted for attack. This is unacceptable; journalism is not a crime,” the statement indicated— with editors vowing to continue to documenting collective attacks against journalists and the individual officers who carry them out and those with operational command.
“Attacks on journalists will not go unrecorded or unpunished. Impunity shall not be allowed to thrive”.
“While we are specifically concerned about the attacks against journalists, we are also gravely concerned by the unprecedented violence that has undermined this electoral season, and in which many non-journalists have been killed, injured, or been detained, sometimes without trial and for longer than is constitutionally allowed”
“We are concerned that the country is, yet again, sliding down the slippery road of political violence and undoing all the efforts of constitutionalism and the rule of law that have been undertaken for many decades.
Uganda is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 14.
Government has been accused of suppressing journalists through a series of arbitrary arrests and attacks — especially against those covering the campaign of some opposition candidates.
The editors have since petitioned Inspector General of Police Martins Okoth Ochola and the Chief of Defence Forces Gen. David Muhoozi to rein in the men and officers under their command, to publicly condemn the attacks on journalists, and to order a transparent and independent investigation into the violence involving security agencies.