The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) has learnt with dismay the assault on a reporter from Unity FM in Uganda by the Mayor of the Lira Municipality in Northern Uganda, and calls for justice for the victim.
The incident occurred on January 18, 2019 at the Municipal Council Chambers where the journalist, Bismack Olang had gone, together with other reporters, to cover a meeting between the Councilors and the Mayor, Mike Ogwang Olwa Veve. The meeting was to discuss the collection of revenue from motorcyclists, popularly known as Boda Boda riders in the area.
According to AFEX Member, Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda), all the journalists were asked by the Mayor to wait outside the Chambers upon arrival, which they obliged, thinking that they would be called when the meeting began. After some time, when the participants had arrived, the waiting journalists entered the chambers to inquire if they could now join the meeting. However, the Mayor got angry upon seeing them and, for no apparent reason, singled out Olang of Unity FM for attack. He punched the reporter several times before he was rescued by police officers present.
Olang reported the matter at Lira Central Police Station on the same day of the attack (January 18, 2019).
When contacted by HRNJ-Uganda, the Mayor Ogwang blatantly denied the accusations leveled against him and rather accused the journalist of being unprofessional, without elaborating.
The police have indicated in a statement issued on January 21, 2019 that they have commenced investigations into the alleged assault by the Mayor on the journalist.
“The police in Lira are investigating the alleged assault of Bismack Olang, a radio journalist with Unity FM, by Lira Mayor Mike Ogwang Olwa… you are well aware the IGP has offered to guard the space for journalists in his directive to all units. As a result, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations is fast tracking the matter to grickly bring the perpetrators to justice”, read a part of the statement signed by police spokesperson, Fred Enanga.
It will be recalled that on November 17, 2018, local authorities in Lira shut down Unity FM for a month. Six journalists working with the station were also arrested. The authorities accused the station of inciting violence. The FM Station has been very critical of the leaders of the Municipality, taken them to task for poor service delivery and mismanagement of funds received from the central government.
AFEX joins its member to condemn the attack against the journalist as abuse of power. State officials have a crucial role to play in promoting the safety of journalists and combatting impunity for crimes against journalists. Attacks against journalists violate national laws and mechanisms put in place by the Ugandan government to safeguard journalists’ safety.
We recognise the swift commencement of investigations into the matter by the police as a commitment to ensuring that attacks against journalists are brought to a logical conclusion and the violators punished.