News / Africa

Second Ugandan Journalist Beaten to Death

Another journalist has been beaten to death in Uganda, the second such incident in less than a week.  International media-rights groups say there is fear that the latest killing may have been politically motivated.  

Police in Uganda's Mukono district say unidentified men wielding metal bars attacked 29-year-old Dickson Ssentongo early Monday as he waited for a bus.  The police say the journalist may have been followed prior to the attack.   

Ssentongo was beaten unconscious and left for dead in a cassava field.  He subsequently died of his injuries in the hospital.

The incident mirrored the death of freelance journalist Paul Kiggundu, who was beaten to death Saturday by a mob of motorcycle taxi drivers in southwest Uganda.  The mob accused Kiggundu of being a police informant, after the journalist tried to videotape the drivers attacking the house of another driver.

The East Africa researcher for Committee to Protect Journalists, Tom Rhodes, says there does not appear to be a link between the two murders.  

Rhodes says the motivation behind Ssentongo's killing is believed to be related to his work as a news anchor at the Seventh Day Adventist Prime Radio station.  Ssentongo had also been campaigning for a seat on the district council on an opposition ticket.

"Dickson was heavily involved in the Democratic Party, one of the leading opposition parties in Uganda," he said.  "And he did, on occasion, according to the news editors at the station, bring up political issues and tried to promote the Democratic Party."

Rhodes says Ssentongo's personal belongings, including his wallet and mobile phone, were not taken, fueling speculation that the killing may have been politically motivated.  

"I must emphasize it has not been proven yet.  But many journalists I spoke to suspect that it was," he said. "They are going to be afraid to speak out and be afraid to cover the opposition party.  And we are going to see a very self-censored and stratified local press when the elections come up in 2011."

For the past 24 years, power in Uganda has been largely in the hands of the National Resistance Movement Party led by President Yoweri Museveni.   

The Ugandan leader, who is running for a fourth term in office next February, has earned praise for bringing stability to the country and maintaining economic growth.  In recent years, he has also earned the gratitude of the international community for sending thousands of troops to participate in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.  

Critics of Mr. Museveni say he is a dictator, who has been rolling back democratic gains in Uganda for years.  

In late August, an Ugandan court threw out a sedition law used by the Museveni government to bring charges against a dozen journalists and a prominent opposition politician.  The court said the law restricted the freedom of speech guaranteed by Uganda's constitution.

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