Amid assaults on press, police promise reforms
By Tom Rhodes/CPJ East Africa Consultant
Joseph Mutebi, a photojournalist for the popular vernacular state-owned daily Bukedde, spent his afternoon trying to file a complaint with the police in the capital, Kampala. "First they told me the officer who assaulted me was based at another station, so I went there and now they are telling me he is based at the police station where I originally went. So I am confused. I think they are just playing with me." Mutebi's case is not uncommon--both in terms of the constant threat journalists face from Uganda's police force and the challenges they encounter trying to file a complaint.
Thursday, Mutebi had gone to cover a protest organized by the "boda-boda" drivers (Uganda's motorcycle taxis) outside Old Kampala Police Station along with several journalists from other media houses. "Once I took my camera out an officer came from behind and hit me twice with a baton," he told me. Why Mutebi was singled out from the rest of the press is a mystery to him. "I don't know, perhaps because I have been a crime reporter for the past eight years and they recognized me?" he said. After going to the hospital to receive treatment for the blows to his back, Mutebi is now undertaking another agonizing process: trying to get justice.
There is some hope that justice may be more readily served in the future. Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura is forming a new press unit of police to act as an ombudsman for complaints by journalists and as a public relations department. "The inspector general is committed to professionalizing the police force," Simon Kuteesa, who will run the new unit, told me. "We are not re-inventing the wheel here--it's all part of a strategic initiative." The new unit is expected to be operational in three months, he said.