A call for justice. ‘’Targeted’’ a year later

By Grace Birungi

‘’I am not looking for compensation but justice,’’ Ashraf Kasirye, a journalist who was targeted during the 2020/21 Uganda election, said.

During a dialogue organized by the African Institute for Investigative journalism (AIIJ) on 18th May 2022 at Golden Tulip hotel, candid conversations on justice for journalists that were “targeted” during elections took center stage.

It was walking down memory lane and reopening discussions on demanding for arrest and trial of security officers who violated the rights of journalists. At the peak of the 2021 General Election in Uganda, the African Institute for Investigative journalism published a documentary “targeted” that showcased chilling narratives of journalists who were tortured.

A panel discussion moderated by Solomon Serwanjja, Executive Director of AIIJ, centered on the lives of journalists who were featured in the documentary a year later.

An emotional moment it was for Irene Abalo, a journalist with the Daily Monitor who to date walks on a crutch as she faced her tormentors.  “Every time I see a man dressed in a UPDF uniform; I get traumatized. Life has been different for me. For months I could not support myself including going to the washroom. I cannot practice journalism as I did. I am only reduced to a voice-over artist to read scripts for NTV Panorama.” She said.

Ashraf Kasirye, a Ghetto TV journalist who had his head covered, explained that he can’t stand noise, wind, or sunlight, which is why he covers his head.

 “Media in Uganda is not respected by people who lead us, to an extent that, when a security officer comes out to shoot or beat a journalist, like how Enock Baine who shot me, nothing is done,” Ashraf concluded.

Daniel Lutaaya, a journalist with NBS, said if what happened to them had happened elsewhere in the world, something would be done. ‘’If you think what you are doing is right, why do you fear cameras,” he added.

Daniel concluded by saying, press freedom in Uganda is possible even when they will not see it, but it will come.

Derrick Wandera, a journalist with the Daily monitor, advised that, the only thing that can be done to stop violence is using a pen and paper to put faces to it and when it happens, the perpetrators will be isolated.

Uganda People’s Defense Forces spokesperson, Afande Felix Kulaigye, who was the keynote speaker apologized on behalf of the UPDF to the journalists that were tortured. “I am annoyed by incidents such as these that involve men in uniform beating up journalists. I condemn this strongly and it has been a part of my teaching series for soldiers in military colleges”

Benjamin Katana, a human rights lawyer expressed his concern about how men and women in uniform chose to have a side in politics, and whoever is not on their side is targeted and dealt with as an enemy of the state.

‘’It doesn’t call for journalists to be battered. What is the role of regulations? They don’t even wait for you to go through the processes of the law. It is an illusion for journalists to think their rights will be respected in a country where human rights are not respected,’’ Benjamin said.

Ruth Ssekindi, the head of the Uganda Human Rights Commission added that there is a need for more training and sensitization, and background checks before the recruitment of officers.

Torture and imprisonment have deprived many journalists around the world of their watchdog role, and nothing has been done to hold the perpetrators accountable. A lot more demands for journalist justice must be made through advocacy and publicizing atrocities against journalists.