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Ugandan Police Teargas Journalists As Reporters Protest Brutality

Uganda police officers conftont students of Makerere university during their protest against the 15 percent tuition increment in Kampala, Oct. 30, 2019. Police allegedly assaulted four journalists who covered the protest.

Police in Uganda's capital fired tear gas at a group of journalists Monday — ironically, as the reporters protested alleged brutality by police.

A group of about 50 journalists had gathered at Kampala's city center to march to police headquarters and deliver a petition to the chief of police.

The petition asks authorities to investigate and reprimand officers who are found guilty of assaulting journalists and to stop police brutality in the field.

Last week, police allegedly assaulted four journalists who went to cover a strike at Makerere University over a 15 percent tuition increase.

On Monday, police quickly dispersed the journalists' protest and briefly detained some of them. Alex Esagala, a photojournalist with the Daily Monitor newspaper, describes the scene.

“As we were covering that protest, one of the commanders came and told me, that today, it is between life and death. And therefore, they started tear gassing us. The good thing I was putting on a bullet proof, so it [the tear gas canister] fell down. Then it exploded under my legs. I got severe injuries,” said Esagala.

A few journalists were eventually allowed into the police headquarters to deliver the petition.

Isaac Ssemakadde is a lawyer who was among those teargassed and bundled into a police pick-up truck.

Ssemakadde, who represents many journalists in court, says his non-profit, Legal Aid Services, is struggling to keep up with police and government actions against the media.

“We are overwhelmed with the requests for rapid response, requests to unseal closed media houses. We are overwhelmed with requests to recover stolen and broken cameras and other media equipment. Something has to be done as we enter the general election cycle. Journalists all over Uganda are under threat. Let this threat not be minimized or normalized,” he said.

Onyango Patrick, a Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, told VOA that the petition was received and would be delivered to the chief.

Patrick said police and journalists need to respect each other.

“We both need to understand each other’s role. As a journalist, what am I supposed to do? As a police officer, what am I supposed to do, in times of riots? So, we both need each other and we are both not wrong and we are both not correct,” he said.

The Uganda Journalists Association leadership says reporters will not cover police functions until they hear from the police inspector general.