At least two local journalists covering Ugandan presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, were injured Sunday during an altercation involving police. Police say the journalists were only caught up in violence as crowds were dispersed and allege Wine was not using an approved route.
In a video posted online, musician turned politician Bobi Wine is heard telling a police officer he is headed to Lwengo district for a rally after leaving a church service in Masaka district. A confrontation ensues and police spray tear gas on Wine’s car and those around him.
“We are going to Lwengo; you are taking a lot of our time," said Wine. … "This is the main road. Why don’t you let us use a main road? What is illegal about using a main road?” he asked the police.
As Wine’s vehicle goes into reverse, more tear gas is fired. Cameraman Ashraf Kasirye, who is doing a live shot for Ghetto TV, falls, reportedly, after a rubber bullet strikes him just above his left eye. People start screaming.
Kasirye was rushed to a local hospital before being transferred to Kampala for further treatment. He is reported to be in critical condition.
Ali Mivule, a television journalist with NTV, was reporting from the scene when he was surrounded by police and the military, who then started dispersing the crowds using the tear gas and rubber bullets.
Mivule accused the police commanding officer, whom he identified as Enoch Abaine, of then turning his tear gas gun on journalists.
“I had a full body armor, and I had the head gear. I was fully identified as a journalist. But all of a sudden, Abaine pointed the tear gas gun at me and shouted, 'Collateral damage.’ And he didn’t even hold back. Again, he cocked that tear gas gun and then pointed at us,” he said.
Police say their task force had violent confrontations with Wine and his supporters after he ignored the route plan.
“Unfortunately, and most regrettably, some journalists were caught up in the scuffle during the process of dispersing the violent supporters," said Charles Twine, the spokesperson for the Criminal Investigations Department. "Notably among them was a Ghetto TV crew member identified as Ashraf Kasirye, who sustained an injury on his upper left eye, allegedly from a blunt object force.”
Police say their media crimes department is investigating the circumstances regarding the journalists’ injuries.
Robert Sempala, national coordinator of the Human Rights Network for Journalists, is urging police to take stern action against any security personnel found to have deliberately attacked journalists.
Sempala notes that in the past, security forces attacking journalists have not been held accountable, saying impunity for such crimes is entrenched.
The violence in Masaka district comes just a day after the electoral commission cancelled campaign events in 10 districts including Masaka, many of them opposition strongholds. The commission stated that this was done on the advice of the Ministry of Health identifying them as hotspots for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Ugandan authorities should ensure that the press can freely cover the presidential election scheduled for January 14. The CPJ cited accreditation hurdles faced by journalists ahead of the vote.