Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) say seven officers attached to military police have been charged for assaulting journalists yesterday near the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) where Opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, went to deliver a petition about a spate of abductions and disappearances of his supporters.
Ministry of Defense and Veterans affairs Deputy Spokesperson, Lt. Col Deo Akiiki identified the errant officers as Capt Jessy Odwenyi, Cpl Nimusiima Justine, Pte Wasswa Peter, Pte Tsame Imran, Pte Kisakye Victoria, Pte Opiyo Isaac and L/Cpl Zirimenya Kassim.
“The military police unit disciplinary committee (UDC) the lower court of the court martial, today 18th February, 2021 has convened and deliberated on its officer and militants who misbehaved and assaulted members of the fourth estate at Prince Charles lane in Kololo Kampala,” Lt. Col Akiiki said on Thursday.
Capt Odwenyi was sentenced to 90 days while L/Cpl Zirimenya Kassim was sentenced to 60 days of detention in Makindye military barracks.
Cpl Nimusiima was sentenced to severe reprimand and caution while Pte Kisakye and Pte Opiyo were sentenced to 62 and 60 days in the military prison respectively.
The court reportedly warned the culprits and the entire military police force to be disciplined professional while on any deployment.
The court chairman, Lt Col Gai Mpandwa, said the sentences would act as a deterrent measure to officers and militants while executing their constitutional mandate.
At least 10 journalists were left nursing injuries after military personnel attached to the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) assaulted them while covering Mr Kyagulanyi who was accompanied by relatives of Ugandans who have been abducted by security operatives during and after elections.
The injured journalists include John Cliff Wamala, Geoffrey Twesigye and Irene Abalo of Nation Media Group, Shamim Nabakooza of Record TV, Henry Ssekanjako, Timothy Murungi of New Vision, Rashida Nakaayi of Galaxy FM, Josephine Namakumbi, Joseph Sabiti and Thomas Kitimbo of NBS TV.
Lt. Col Akiiki’s statement was issued moments after the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Gen David Muhoozi apologized to journalists and promised investigations into the soldiers’ actions.
“The incident in which some members of the press were assaulted yesterday by some of our soldiers is regrettable. And on behalf of UPDF I apologize for this behaviour. Their actions were not sanctioned nor justified. We will investigate this matter and take appropriate action on all those who were involved,” Gen Muhoozi told journalists on Thursday.
However, journalists say cases of security brutality seem to increase overtime with impunity given that army chiefs have in the past apologized for such offences but the errant officers are never held accountable.
Earlier, journalist bodies condemned the continued brutality and sustained attacks on civil liberties.
"As we have noted before, we will continue to document collective attacks against journalists and the individual officers who carry them out and those with operational command. Attacks on journalists will not go unrecorded or unpunished. Impunity shall not be allowed to thrive," reads part of a statement issued by the Editors' guild.
According to the editors, attacks on journalists in Uganda is one of the continued sustained attacks on civil liberties including breaches to freedom of association prior and in the aftermath of 2021 General elections with the actions undoing all the efforts of constitutionalism and the rule of law that have been undertaken for many decades.
Since December last year, more than 20 journalists have been targeted and assaulted by security operatives while on duty.