Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Human Rights lawyer, Steven Kalali has petitioned the High Court seeking justice on behalf of the journalists who were battered recently by military police officers. The attorney general is the only respondent to the suit filed before the High Court Civil Division. In his application, Kalali contends that on February 17th, 2021, journalists went to cover former National Unity Platform-Presidential Candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu when he went to deliver his petition to the United Nations High Commission in Kololo on gross human rights violations.
He explains that Military police officers descended on journalists who were performing their lawful duties and started battering them indiscriminately leading many of them with injuries. He cites Henry Ssekanjako and Timothy Murungi from Vision group, Cliff Wamala from NTV and Josephine Namakumbi from NBS TV as some of the journalists who were injured by the officers.
“The act of the military personnel battering or beating up journalists while performing their duties were unjustified and infringe on their right to practice their profession as well as undermines the Constitutional mandate of all-state agencies/organs to protect and uphold all fundamental human rights and freedoms,” reads the application in part.
Kalali argues that it is the duty of the government to observe, respect and uphold fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed under the constitutional, which include press freedoms. He notes that all citizens have a right to information and this can only be achieved through a proactive or free media report of the same to the public.
The lawyer cites events where journalists have been beaten and injured without any appropriate disciplinary action taken against the offenders. Kalali says several violations of press freedoms in Uganda have gone unchecked since 2015. For stance, in his affidavit, he talks about Ghetto TV Journalist, Ashraf Kasirye and Ali Mivule of NTV who were injured during Kyagulanyi’s campaign trail in 2020.
Kalali, whose petition is supported by Andrew Lwanga Kisegella, a member of the Uganda Human Rights Network for Journalists wants the court to issue orders restraining government security agencies permanently from acting with impunity, malice and interfering with the rights of all media houses and journalists in the peaceful pursuit of their work.
According to Lwanga who was badly beaten in 2015 by Joram Mwesigye, the then Old Kampala Division Police Commander, independent journalism is under threat basing on what he saw last week. On February 18, 2021, the Chief of Defense Forces, General David Muhoozi admitted liability for the actions of the military police officers and apologized to the media fraternity and the public at large for what happened.
The Army later issued a statement indicating that seven military police officers had been tried and convicted by the Military Police Unit Disciplinary Committee for conducting themselves in a manner prejudicial to the good image of the force. They convict were reportedly sentences to caution and handed between 62 to 90 days jail term.