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Police vs The Press in Uganda – The Listening Post (Feature)

On the surface, the media in Uganda looks vibrant. Dozens of papers populate the newsstands, there are numerous news channels on TV, and some 240 radio stations on the dial. Ugandans can also get online with relative ease.

However, many Ugandan journalists say that reporting the news can be risky. And a police presence is often not a reassurance, but a threat.

In 2015, journalist Andrew Lwanga was assaulted by a senior policeman while reporting on a group of young Ugandans who were protesting against unemployment in the country.

“Two leaders of the youth were arrested, I happened to be behind. I was filming the arrest … Then he (the policeman) saw me, he got his cable [and] hit me. He hit me the second time. The third cane came in, I put the camera, he hit it, it was so strong he broke the LCD. The camera was in parts. So he hit me, then I blacked out,” says Lwanga, who spent 27 days in the hospital.

Overwhelming evidence of the assault on Lwanga by district police commander Joram Mwesigye got him suspended and charged. Two years later, in a case fraught with delays, irregularities and claims of witness intimidation, Mwesigye was found guilty of assault and fined a nominal $1,400. Lwanga says his medical bills have come in at around $60,000.

Mwesigye is the only police officer to have been convicted of assaulting a journalist despite the alarming frequency with which it happens.

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