Uganda’ police chief has on behalf of the country’s police force apologized to the media for the excesses of his police officers against the journalists on duty.
In what appears to be an unprecedented move in the country’s volatile history, Gen Kale Kayihura said: “I apologize for whatever has happened to journalists. I am going to re-open and investigate all of the 107 cases committed against journalists [since] 2011.” Kayihura said.
Until this apology, Ugandan journalists had been subjected to a long time of harassment, ridicule and often detained on flimsy charges by police while covering events. Many have been incarcerated in prisons on trumped up charges or ordered to report to police stations to be quizzed about their work, especially when some journalists report on activities by opposition politicians.
During a one-day meeting last week between the police leadership and media organizations in Uganda held at Emin Pasha Hotel in Kampala to harmonize the relationship between the two institutions, Gen Kayihura said that the force he presides over and him personally believe that the media is a very important 4th estate of government, and would therefore go against police officers who meted out brutality onto journalists.
The Press Freedom Index Report 2011 released by Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) indicated that attacks on Ugandan journalists had risen to 107 documented cases compared to 58 in 2010 and 38 in 2009. Most of these attacks happened at the hands of police, but none of them was investigated conclusively and no reports were released by the police to this effect.
The participants questioned the mandate of the police to arrest, beat up, kick and use guns on suspects who have already surrendered and handcuffed. They urged the police to desist from adjudicating cases, but forward all matters to court for justice to be delivered. “The police must at all time act within the confines of the law. The law must be complied with even if heaven was to fall. Where do the police get the power to arbitrary arrest, beat and kick suspects who have even surrendered to them,” a Human Rights lawyer and media expert during the meeting asked.