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UN, US Condemn Attack on Ugandan Journalists Outside UN Office in Kampala

In this Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 file photo, a man walks past graffiti in support of pop star-turned-opposition lawmaker Bobi Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, in the Kamwokya neighborhood where he has many supporters.

The United Nations is condemning military and police officers who attacked journalists covering opposition figure Bobi Wine’s delivery of a petition to the U.N. rights office in Uganda on Wednesday, according to a press release.

At least 20 journalists were wounded and at least four suffered severe head injuries, Stephen Bwire of the Uganda Journalists Union told Reuters.

“The journalists were doing their duty and they were clearly identifiable as journalists; they were not hostile, they were politely covering the events,” Bwire said.

Bobi Wine rejected his loss in last month’s presidential elections, claiming the elections were rigged in favor of the president, Yoweri Museveni.

Wine, accompanied by five party officials, was filing a complaint about Ugandan human rights abuses at a U.N. office in Kampala when “[security officers] descended on everyone they could land on and beat them without mercy,” he tweeted, describing the action as “contemptuous.”

Presidential challenger Bobi Wine speaks to the media outside his home, in Magere, near Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 26, 2021.
Presidential challenger Bobi Wine speaks to the media outside his home, in Magere, near Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 26, 2021.

The pop star turned politician complained about the “continuing abductions, torture and murder” of his supporters in the petition he was attempting to deliver when the attack started.

“The military was waiting," he tweeted. "Right outside the gate of the U.N. office, they attacked and beat up journalists and elected leaders."

Footage of the incident on social media show police with batons chasing after screaming journalists and hitting them indiscriminately. One video showed a reporter bleeding from the head from a baton wound.

In other footage, NTV Uganda reporter Jeff Twesigye is chased by police and can be heard begging for mercy and apologizing for doing his work. A camera that filmed the incident also captured moments when police demanded to know what Twesigye had captured.

Brigadier General Flavia Byewkaso, a military police spokesperson, posted a statement on Twitter saying that security personnel were on hand to enforce COVID-19 protocols during Wine's march to the U.N. office, insisting journalists weren't targets of the attack.

Byekwaso said the incident was regrettable and advised “journalists on duty to always wear easily identifiable press jackets.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown condemned the incident and called for a probe.

“Whenever assaulted, swift, public, transparent investigations must follow to ensure justice is served and to restore public trust," tweeted the top U.S. diplomat in Uganda. "Those who violate press freedom must be held to account.”

The U.N. urged the Ugandan government to immediately investigate the attack and “ensure those responsible are brought to justice,” according to the release.