Hardad Mubiru, a journalist working with RedPepper and BTM television was found dead at a roadside in the outskirts of Kampala city on February 7, 2021 at 8am. His body showed marks of injuries, according to press reports.
Circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown. According to one of the residents in the area, Mubiru was seen crawling near the scene the previous night of February 6, 2021. In an era of state abductions anything could have happened to him.
“You are collateral damage,” these words are now days commonly used by members of the police and military in Uganda as they shoot at journalists, beat and torture them.
As Ghetto TV journalist, Ashraf Kasirye, was shot on the head at close range while covering presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi’s rally in Masaka his colleagues overheard the suspected shooter shout at him; “You are collateral damage.” His other colleague, an NTV journalist, Ali Mivule was also shot in the leg.
Media footage of the incident showed Kasirye bleeding from his head. The journalist’s skull was cracked, according to Kampala hospital where he was rushed. It is believed that Kasirye was hit with a rubber bullet.
The officer who fired the projectile that hit Kasirye also fired a teargas canister at Mivule, hitting him on his thigh and causing painful swelling.
Earlier on November 18 2020 Kasirye, was beaten and pepper-sprayed by police while he covered the Bobi Wine arrest.
Mivule said that the officer spoke to him and said he was “collateral damage.” Mivule and Daniel Lutaaya, a reporter with the privately owned broadcaster NBS TV, who witnessed the attacks on Kasirye and Mivule, said that they saw the officer’s name tag on his uniform and identified him as Greater Masaka Regional Police Commander Enoch Abaine.
The kind of brutality occasioned against Ashiraf Kasirye can only be compared to that meted against James Akena, a photojournalist who was badly beaten by four soldiers in 2018. After the gruesome incident, Akena ended up in the hospital, nursing injuries, including a major one on the head.
Akena was photographing protests against the arrest and torture of popular musician and independent parliamentarian Robert Kyangulanyi, known as Bobi Wine, and others in August 2018. Surrounded by soldiers, Akena put his hands in the air, holding only his camera, as they beat him until he was carried off. Akena, one of the best photojournalists Uganda has ever had, now moves in a wheel chair and was literally put out action regarding his work.
Akena sued government seeking damages to the tune of Shs 100 million. However, government spokesman, Ofwono Opondo, claims the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces is facilitating Akena’s treatment abroad.
After what happened to Kasirye and Mivule journalists staged a walkout from a government press conference protesting against the unending brutality against them. Gabriel Buule of Daily Monitor who led the walkout claims he was also beaten by the security and he lost ability to function in the bedroom after his manhood was compromised by security. But security forces ignored this message. They continued beating and harassing journalists.
“This is not indiscriminate fire,” said the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Uganda, citing a “consistent pattern of attacks” on media workers by security forces.
In Uganda today, covering anti-government protests has become a crime, with brutality against journalists now becoming a culture. In fact since the emergence of Bobi Wine in 2018 as a formidable opponent of President Yoweri Museveni hundreds of journalists have suffered the worst kinds of brutality in a very systematic and controlled manner.
In the past, the #FreeBobiWine demos for example have seen journalists Ronald Galiwango and Juma Kirya of NTV, Julius Muhumuza of Dream TV, Alfred Ochwo of the Observer and James Akena, sustain serious injuries as a result of beatings by the police and the army.
Most recent, at least eight journalists were beaten and injured like common thugs by the military police last week at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Kololo, Kampala.
The journalists were there to cover former Presidential Candidate Robert Kyagulanyi who was delivering a petition to the UN Human Rights Commission in Kampala on numerous abductions of his supporters by different security organs.
They included; NTV Uganda’s Geoffrey Twesigye and John Cliff Wamala, Daily Monitor’s Irene Abalo, New Vision’s Timothy Murungi, and Henry Sekanjako, NBS Television’s Joseph Sabiti and Josephine Makumbi, and Galaxy Radio’s Amina Nalule among others.
“We started interviewing some people who had been blocked but before we could finish the interviews, the military patrol came from the side of the UN office and their commander came straight to me and hit me on the head,” says John Cliff Wamala of NTV.
Daily Monitor’s Irene Abalo added, “They were just hitting everybody as long as you were not in a police or military uniform.”
“The military was waiting,” tweeted Bobi Wine. “Right outside the gate of the U.N. office, they attacked and beat up journalists and elected leaders.”
Footage of the incident on social media show police with batons chasing after screaming journalists and hitting them indiscriminately. One video showed a reporter bleeding from the head from a baton wound.
In other footage, NTV Uganda reporter Jeff Twesigye is chased by police and can be heard begging for mercy and apologizing for doing his work. A camera that filmed the incident also captured moments when police demanded to know what Twesigye had captured.
“I condemn what happened. It shouldn’t have happened and should never happen again. It is very unfortunate that our colleagues, the journalists, should go through that,” regretted the deputy Attorney General, Jackson Kafuuzi, during a talk-show on NTV on February 18.
The commander behind these atrocious actions at the UN office is Lt Col. Frank Napoleon who was in the past implicated in the murder of three people during an unwelcome visit by President Yoweri Museveni to Kasubi Tombs a few years ago. Napoleon is also accused of having been involved in another murder in Eastern Uganda, according to Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer and activist.
“We are at crossroads as a country. The beating of journalists in full glare of cameras in broad day light at the UN Human Rights Commission offices shows how the crisis has deepened,” said Kampala Capital City Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago on a talk-show on Next Radio on Saturday February 20.
In what observers have described as a kangaroo court, the Ugandan military sentenced seven soldiers to up 90 days in jail for assaulting the journalists. The summary trial took place a day after the incident. Witnesses were never invited to give their account neither were the victims part of the trial. Lt Col. Napoleon was not tried.
If we can place Lt Col Napoleon at the scene of crime he should be tried, Brig Gen Felix Kulaigye, a representative of Uganda Peoples Defence Forces in Parliament, challenged.
“We are not at war with media or individual journalists,” Kulaigye said during a talk-show on Next Radio on February 20.
The Chief of Defence Forces Gen David Muhoozi in an effort to show remorse apologized to the journalists and promised to meet their medical bills.
“Such actions are regrettable and the UPDF as a professional institution doesn’t condone such acts,” Muhoozi said in a statement. At least 20 journalists were wounded and at least four suffered severe head injuries.
However, this is the third time Gen Muhoozi has apologized for the misconduct of his forces and there seems to be no deliberate change in attitude by the army no police.
On his part, Inspector General of Police, Ochola said he can’t apologize for the unlawful, unjustified and high handed actions by police towards Journalists in the course of their work and further stated that the police shall continue to inflict violence, torture and harassment to journalists.
“Whenever assaulted, swift, public, transparent investigations must follow to ensure justice is served and to restore public trust,” tweeted the U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown. “Those who violate press freedom must be held to account.”
The U.N. urged the Ugandan government to immediately investigate the actions of the military at their office and “ensure those responsible are brought to justice,” according to the release.
“The U.N. calls on the Government to immediately investigate this incident and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice,” the U.N. statement said, noting that the behavior of Ugandan forces contravenes an agreement with authorities regarding the safety of U.N. premises, staff and guests.
In the run-up to the 14 January Presidential and Parliamentary election, several journalists on the campaign trails of Kyagulanyi and FDC’s Patrick Oboi Amuriat were attacked and injured by security forces.
Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) says it has documented over 100 attacks since November when presidential nominations were held.
Since the nomination of Presidential candidates on November 4, 2020, the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) recorded over 20 attacks on journalists. These attacks included assault, arrests, and injuries.
For instance, on November 3, 2020 Vision Group journalist Ronald Kakooza arrested while covering events at the Forum for Democratic Change headquarters in Najjanankumbi in a build-up to the nomination of the party’s candidate, Patrick Amuriat, who was also roughed up.
On the same day journalists from different media houses covering a procession by Mr Kyagulanyi’s supporters were pepper-sprayed in Nakawa en route to the nomination grounds in Kyambogo, Kampala.
On November 5, 2020, freelance journalist Moses Bwayo was shot in the face with a rubber bullet while filming NUP’s Kyagulanyi, who was heading to the party headquarters in Kamwokya.
On November 12, 2020, NBS TV team led by reporter Daniel Lutaaya and cameraman Thomas Kitimbo were attacked by unknown thugs in Lira where they were covering the campaign of National Unity Platform’s presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi. Their property, including a laptop, camera chargers, and phones, was stolen while the branded vehicle they were travelling in was vandalised.
[caption id="attachment_1204" align="alignnone" width="300"] Uganda journalists
On November 18, 2020 Sam Balikowa of City FM and Nile TV in Jinja arrested while covering the arrest of Bobi Wine. On the same day, John Bosco Mwesigwa was sacked from his job at City FM on accusations of writing pro-Opposition stories.
Then on December 5, Uganda deported CBC journalists Margaret Evans, Lily Martin and Jean-Francois Bisson, a videographer. Over the past few months President Museveni and his followers have claimed that foreign journalists were favouring opposition candidate, Bobi Wine.
On December 11, in the northern district of Lira, security personnel used batons and the butts of their guns to assault a group of at least six journalists covering the campaign of opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi.
Police assaulted Busoga One FM reporter Moses Waiswa, BBS Terefayina reporter and anchor Ssesanga Batte, NTV Uganda reporter and camera operator John Cliff Wamala, Bukedde TV reporter David Tamale, Atusingwize Jonan, a reporter with the Pearl of Africa radio station and the online outlet Ghetto Media, and Ronald Mugyenyi, a reporter and cameraperson, also with Ghetto Media, which supports Bobi Wine, according to those sources.
Waiswa suffered cuts on his head, and that he ran and hid in a swamp for about an hour to avoid further assault, according to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
He said he was hospitalized for two days and continued to suffer headaches. Atusingwize told CPJ that he suffered pains to his back and stomach, and Mugyenyi said that the officers fractured one of his hands. Ssesanga told CPJ that the officers beat him despite protests that he was a journalist, leaving him with a wound on his head.
On December 30, in Kalangala, central Uganda, security personnel briefly detained two reporters, Derrick Wandera of the privately owned newspaper Daily Monitor and Culton Scovia Nakamya of the broadcaster BBS Terefayina, while they were covering security personnel arresting Bobi Wine.
Nakamya told CPJ that five soldiers and police officers questioned her about her social media posts and accused her of inciting violence in her coverage of Bobi Wine’s arrest. She responded that she was doing her job, and they released her without charge after about five minutes, she said.
Police held Wandera in an open field at the scene of his arrest and questioned him about his live reporting and past coverage, accusing him of negatively profiling security personnel including in a November 10 article about a police officer who allegedly harassed Bobi Wine.
Wandera said the officers then forced him into a patrol car and drove him to the local Kalangala police station, where he was held for several hours before being released without charge.
On January 1, in the northern Nebbi district, a man confronted ChimpReports news website reporter and photographer Dedan Kimathi, who was on the campaign trail of opposition presidential candidate Patrick Amuriat, and tried to take his camera from him.
As he struggled on the ground with his assailant, police officers and soldiers surrounded Kimathi, punched him, beat him with batons, and tried to take away his camera, Kimathi told CPJ. He said the officers broke his camera in the process, and after the scuffle forced him to delete photos that he had taken.
Kimathi said he suffered a cut below his left eye and had chest pains as a result of the attack.
“The unabated violence and hostility against journalists ahead of Uganda’s general election is shocking. Reporting on the opposition has become an unacceptably dangerous job,” said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities must thoroughly investigate these attacks; it is past time for the Ugandan government to move beyond empty words and to take urgent and decisive action.”
As reality set that Mr Museveni was slowly losing grip over state power, violations against media also tended to increase. And this time there is no more pretence.
Other state institutions have also been used to curtail media freedom. For instance, just a few weeks to the presidential polls the Media Council demanded accreditation and licensing of all journalists.
Journalists were required to submit a fresh accreditation form within seven days, but the Media Council did not indicate how long it would take to grant fresh press passes. Furthermore, the Media Council stipulated new conditions for foreign journalists, including a letter from the Interpol office of their respective countries and the details of their employers.
One of the causalities of this decision was Solomon Kaweesa of NTV, who had produced advertisements for Bobi Wine’s campaigns. He was one of those denied accreditation. Journalists rejected this demand and threatened to sue the Media Council, which backed down.
Then in an unexpected move to gag online journalism, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) wrote to Google Inc on December 9, 2020, urging the search giant to block all Ugandan YouTube channels that were reportedly spreading negative sentiments during elections. All of the YouTube channels that UCC wanted blocked belong to opposition pundits.
They included; Ghetto TV, Map Mediya, Busesa Media Updates, Uganda Empya, KK TV Uganda, Ekyooto TV and Bobi Wine 2021. The others are; Namungo Media, JB Muwonge, TMO Online, Lumbuye Fred, Trending Channel Ug, Uganda Yaffe and Uganda News Update. The said channels had more than 59 million views and 300,000 subscribers as of December 15.
In the letter to Google, UCC claimed that these channels had extremist or anarchic messages including messages likely to incite violence against sections of the public on account of their tribe and political opinions. Government said that these channels would compromise national security and cause economic sabotage.
But in response a few days later, the head of Communication and Public Affairs for Africa at Google, Dorothy Ooko said “it is very hard to just have a channel removed due to a government request.”
UCC had also requested all social media bloggers and online publishers to register with it. The directive was ignored since UCC doesn’t control or have any powers to regulate the likes of Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
Then in a turn of events, Facebook shut a slew of accounts belonging to Ugandan government officials accused of seeking to manipulate public debate ahead of elections.
“They used fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on other people’s content, impersonate users, re-share posts in groups to make them appear more popular that they were,” said Facebook in a statement.
In retaliation, Mr Museveni ordered shut down of the internet.
Disruption of internet access in Uganda started on 9 January with app stores. Shortly thereafter, internet service providers removed access to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and instant messaging platforms WhatsApp and Telegram. On the eve of Uganda’s 2021 presidential and parliamentary election, the entire country was disconnected from the internet.
President Yoweri Museveni defended the shutdown of social media platforms in a 12 January 2021 address. He said it was a response to Facebook’s decision to de-platform several people linked to the ruling NRM party.
Mr Museveni said: “If that social channel is going to operate in Uganda, it should be equitably used by everybody who has to use it. If you want to take sides against NRM, then you cannot operate in Uganda. We cannot tolerate this arrogance of anybody coming to decide for us who is good and who is bad.”
Furthermore, several government officials accused some members of the opposition of using social media and the internet to mobilise and call for riots.
Partial access to the internet was restored after the election on January 18, 2021, but social media platforms remained blocked and could only be accessed using Virtual Private Networks (VPN).
Nonetheless, President Museveni and half of his 28-member cabinet remained active on social media despite the ban. Daily Monitor, Monday, reported that only 10 of them neither tweeted nor posted anything on Facebook during the shutdown period.
Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, is often credited with presiding over relative peace and security throughout his tenure. But last month’s election saw the most violence in recent years, with security forces accused of cracking down on Bobi Wine’s supporters. Some critics now charge that Museveni’s government is behaving like those of previous dictators, including Idi Amin.
In comparison to those previous brutal despotic governments, Museveni’s regime seems to be just doing the same violations against journalists or worse.
The Idi Amin era was not only a disaster to human beings and the economy, but also to the print media. Private print media was almost totally annihilated.
It is the Amin years from 1971 to 1979 that were the most terrible for the media with several journalists paying the ultimate price of death for trying to do their job. And the defining moment came early, in February 1971, when Fr Clement Kiggundu, the editor of the Catholic-owned Munno newspaper – one of the oldest then – was found dead and burnt in his Volkswagen car at Namanve forest. His publication had been critical of the lawlessness that had emerged following the coup only a month earlier.
In the intervening years several other journalists were killed in the line of duty. They are John Serwaniko, also of Munno, ministry of Information photo journalist Jimmy Parma, and UTV journalist James Bwogi. Many others fled to exile.
Deporting of journalists, a practice that has become common today under President Museveni was only done in 1966 when the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) government of Milton Obote deported Ted Jones, the Uganda correspondent for two Nairobi-based publications, the Kenya Weekly News and the Reporter as well as Billy Chibber, a reporter for Daily Nation.
The Obote II regime (1981 to 1986) was also very bad for the media and saw several newspapers banned, among then the Weekly Topic and Citizen.
Since 1986, according to a report by the African Centre for Media, at least one journalist has been charged with sedition or such related offence by the government every year! Thus between 1986 and 2010, at least 49 journalists were dragged before courts and charged for various offences including sedition, criminal libel and publication of false news.
The trend started worsening between 2007 and 2010 where 34 journalists were summoned by police and 25 of them charged. By 2018 there were 163 cases of abuses and violations against journalists, the majority being blocking access to news sites and sources (40 cases) and assault (37 cases), according to research by the Human Rights Network for Journalists.
Apart from the ordinary arrest of journalists, occasional shut down of some newspapers and broadcast stations and denying them advertisement revenue no serious brutality was occasioned against journalists like is seen today. And if the trend of events is not deliberately reversed it is possible that in future killing of journalists will be the next phase.