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Ugandan police beat journalists covering opposition leader's arrest

By Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
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NEW YORK, March 22, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns attacks by Ugandan police against two journalists in separate incidents outside of police stations today.

Police officers beat freelance photographer Edward Echwalu as he was trying to cover the arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye at Kira Road Police Station in the capital, Kampala. Separately, police beat Anatoli Luswata, a reporter for the private weekly Eddobozi, outside Kampala's Central Police Station. Both journalists were trying to cover the arrest of Besigye, local journalists told CPJ, but it wasn't clear until later in the day which police station was holding him. Opposition supporters were taken into custody after demonstrations against police brutality in Kampala turned into clashes and one policeman died, according to wire reports.

Using batons and a rifle butt, four officers repeatedly beat Echwalu, a photographer for Reuters and the independent weekly Observer, around 4:40 p.m. outside Kira Road Police Station where Besigye was detained, he told CPJ. When Echwalu tried to explain to the police officers that he was covering the event, they started to beat him. "They did not want to see my ID. They didn't want to listen," Echwalu told CPJ. The beating continued until opposition parliamentary members arrived on the scene. Echwalu said he attempted to report the incident to the police station immediately afterwards, but police did not allow him to enter. Bruised on his right arm and shoulder, Echwalu went to Kampala Hospital for treatment, he said. Echwalu managed to take photographs of the four officers after the incident.

Police officers beat Luswata on his back with batons outside the gate of Kampala's Central Police Station, local journalists told CPJ. They said they suspect police attacked Luswata because he was the first to arrive at the scene and there were no other reporters to cover the incident.

"Covering opposition party issues is not a crime. Ugandan police must stop arbitrarily attacking journalists simply for doing their job," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "Authorities must immediately identify the officers who carried out these attacks and take disciplinary measures."

Calls to police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba went unanswered. According to CPJ research, police and security agents were responsible for at least 21 cases of physical attacks against journalists during the country's 2011 election year.