This statement was originally published on hrnjuganda.org on May 4, 2017.
As Uganda joined the rest of the world to commemorate The World Press Freedom Day through different activities; some journalists were arrested by the police and kept in the cells for trying to organize parallel activities to those of their association, the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA).
The arrested journalists included; Phillip Onyango, Issa Kigongo –Deputy Secretary who had again been arrested the previous day at the Central Police Station and released later, Bukenya Ronald, Mukisa Daniel, Kabuye Ronald, Nakabale Issa and Atusingwize Johan. They were arrested in the capital Kampala as they matched to their intended venue for the day’s celebrations. The journalists accused a rivalry UJA group of masterminding their arrest.
The journalists told HRNJ-Uganda that they had informed the police about their intended celebration activities. “We wrote to police on 20th April, 2017 about our plans for the day, but we were surprised when it turned against us and roughed us up as though it was illegal for us to have parallel activities.” Kigongo said.
The journalists decried the manner in which they were arrested. “I was brutally arrested by the police, they tore my trousers and I sustained a cut on my head. They also confiscated my property including a cell phone.” Nakabaale told HRNJ-Uganda at CPS
The arrest attracted wild condemnation from the civil society, human rights bodies and journalists, among others. The arrest came just a day after a local media rights body –Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda had released a Press Freedom Index for 2016 titled ‘Tough Times, Political Instability stifles Media Freedom’. The Report documented a total of 135 cases of violation and abuse, with police ranked as the leading perpetrator with 83 cases (61%). Police has been ranked as the leading media freedom violators by local and international rights bodies for several years now.
The seven journalists were charged with unlawful assembly vide SD Ref 13/03/05/2017 and released on bond. They were asked to re-appear before the DPC of the Central Police Station on Thursday 04th May, 2017.
The Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, Emillian Kayima dismissed claims that police was acting under the influence of one of the UJA factions. He said the journalists were released without any charges preferred against them.
“It is unfortunate that the police goes ahead to brutally arrest journalists on a day they are free to celebrate press freedom. Police should do better to ensure the safety and security of journalists, and also maintain neutrality at all times. Journalists need to work together for the greater good of defending our freedom.’ Said the HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala