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Ugandan police assault journalist demanding equipment compensation

(HRNJ-Uganda) - 8 February 2013 - A Wavah Broadcasting Services (WBS) television journalist, William Ntege a.k.a Kyumakyayesu, who was sprayed by police during an arrest in Kampala, has developed a strange skin reaction. It is not clear what substance was used to spray the journalist. He first complained of irritated skin, which started peeling off two days later, from the chin to the forehead, and other areas which were most sprayed at.

Ntege, who on 25 January 2013 had camped at the police headquarters along Parliamentary Avenue in Kampala, was pepper sprayed before being violently arrested and whisked away in a police car to the Central Police Station, where he was detained. He was charged with 'obstructions' and released on a police bond the next day.

“You spray him, spray him,” Ntege quotes the police operations commander, Grace Turyagumanawe, as having ordered the police officers during the assault. Ntege has sought treatment from private clinics.

The journalist was demanding compensation for his video camera, which was destroyed on 4 October 2012. Ntege had been covering the arrest of an opposition leader — the Forum for Democratic Change's president, Dr. Kizza Besigye — at the CPS in Kampala, when police reportedly pushed him down the stairs, damaging his camera in the process.

He has since camped at the police headquarters twice, demanding compensation. The Inspector General of Police, LT. Gen Kale Kayihura, had earlier assured Ntege that he would be compensated. Mid last year, police compensated Ntege for two cameras which had been damaged when police officers assaulted him as he covered news stories in Kampala.

“We don't have any special type of spray, we use only pepper spray. It may react differently on different people,” said the spokesperson of Kampala Metropolitan Police Ibin Ssenkumbi, when HRNJ-Uganda contacted him about the type of spray used on Ntege, adding that, “with due respect, Ntege wants to use rude methods [to] seek compensation.”

“Compensation is a process; I know that they are trying to compensate him,” the police deputy spokesperson, Vincent Ssekatte told HRNJ-Uganda. He could not state the progress of the 'obstructions' charges preferred against Ntege. No police officers have been held liable for the incident.

The police have been criticized on a number of occasions for using excessive force when handling civilians, especially opposition politicians and media practitioners covering such activities.

“The police have targeted journalists covering opposition-related activities, accusing them of being opposition activists. This criminalization of their journalistic work has scared away some journalists from taking assignments to cover such news scenes. This is a direct attack on freedom of the media and right to information as provided by the constitution and other local and international laws to which Uganda is party. The police should investigate and prosecute its officers who assault journalists on duty as a way of ending brutality against media practitioners and duly compensate the victims.” said HRNJ-Uganda' National Coordinator, Wokulira Ssebaggala.

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