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By Mulengera Reporter

Media freedoms defender Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ-Uganda) has expressed concern over the mistreatment of reporters since government announced measures to prevent the further spread of the deadly Covid19 disease for which Uganda has so far confirmed 48 cases.

On March 18, President Yoweri Museveni issued a raft of directives, including the closure of education institutions and suspension of public gatherings. Days later, Museveni banned public transport before announcing a two-week lockdown, including a 7pm-6:30am curfew, at the start of this week.

According to HRNJ-Uganda Executive Director Robert Ssempala, for weeks since the head-of-state first issued measures, there have been “rampant attacks against journalists in their line of duty.”

The press rights watchdog has detailed accounts of at least seven journalists harassed by security forces countrywide. Some of these were admitted in hospitals after sustaining injuries from assaults.

They include Uganda Radio Network (URN) Bureau Chief in Kitgum district Julius Ocungi who was allegedly assaulted by policemen attached to Kitgum Central Police Station. Ocungi was covering an operation by the Kitgum Resident District Commissioner (RDC) William Komakech and police to close bars when he was assaulted, sustaining injuries on the left eye, thighs, and the right ankle.

“His efforts to open up a case proved futile as police officers in the area were not willing to do so,” said HRNJ in a statement.

Others are: Radio Wa reporter Richard Odongo who was reportedly assaulted by Fedil Opio, the defense secretary of Acini village Menye sub-county in Oyam District on March 26; Radio Apac Production Manager Denis Okello, who was “badly beaten by plain-clothed men presumed to be army officers in front of the radio station just near the reception” on March 30; and NTV Mukono correspondent Daniel Mwesigwa, who was reportedly assaulted by Mukono RDC Fred Bamwine‘s bodyguard on March 31.

Daily Monitor’s Perez Rumanzi was allegedly assaulted by security officers in Ntungamo on April 01 while Radio Simba correspondent Dalton Iga was thumped by LDUs in Mukono on the same day. Both were covering the implementation of the curfew.

The following day, Bukedde TV correspondent David Musisi Kanyankole was reportedly battered at his home in Namayuba, at about 6:30 local time, by Buzira-Njovu Police OC Noor Musoke.

HRNJ-Uganda has since appealed to President Museveni “to prevail over the situation in order to enforce the safety of Journalists who have so far done an excellent job in disseminating information and educating the masses about the Coronavirus pandemic and the campaign to curb its spread.”

“We also urge Journalists to ensure their safety from contracting the disease while in the line of duty. Safety equipment such as face masks and sanitizers should be availed to all Journalists by their media houses in collaboration with the government,” advised Robert Ssempala.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Broadcasters (Nab) has also petitioned ICT and National Guidance Minister Judith Nabakooba over the harassment of media personnel during the lockdown. (See: MEDIA HOUSES PETITION MINISTER NABAKOOBA OVER HARASSMENT OF JOURNALISTS DURING LOCKDOWN).

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