- Radio Journalist losses four of his teeth covering land wrangle in Arua
- Attacks on journalists undermines press freedom and democracy
- West Nile turning into unfriendly place for journalists
- Do not persecute the messenger
- The voiceless need to appreciate and respect the role played by journalists
- An attack on one Journalist is an attack on all-solidarity is important
By Warom Felix
West Nile-It is a normal working day on October 30, 2017 for Ronald Oguzu as he set out to the field to hunt for stories which he then files for the government owned, Arua One Fm and later earn his bread.
Soon as he interacted with some of the sources, he was tipped about an impending land wrangles in Obbi village in Vurra Sub county. He then informed his Supervisors about the story he was following-they give him the guide then.
As he set for the coverage of the Land Wrangle that turned violent, Oguzu, the reporter, was attacked by irate men wielding pangas, sticks, and stones. “As I carried on with my work of recording some of the people, a group of men pounced on me beating me all over. In the process, I lost four of my teeth. I went unconscious and did not remember those who rescued me from the brutality,” he said.
He added: “Incidentally, these were people who knew me very well that I am a reporter and I know them because this was my fourth time of reporting about this land wrangle that has been happening between the brothers.”
As a result of the beatings, Oguzu sustained injuries on the head, nose and arms. A Good Samaritan then called the station’s landline informing them about the incident where their reporter was beaten while covering a story.
The management of Arua One then sent a motorcycle to pick him up but found him recording statement at Vurra police post. Oguzu was then rushed to Rhema Medical Clinic where scan was done. He then started receiving treatment. So far two of his teeth have been replaced.
The News Editor for Arua One Fm, Jonathan Driliga, said: “The community should learn to appreciate the role journalists play in communities because we are there to report issues accurately. This was a very unfortunate incident but we are taking care of his medical bills.”
The West Nile Press Association Chairman, Clement Aluma, said there was need for the police to apprehend the suspects in order to avert further impunity to journalists. “This is a barbaric act which should not be tolerated in society. Journalists acts on behalf of the voiceless community, and their work should be value and they need to be accorded respect,” he said.
But just a month after the gruesome attack on Oguzu, another Journalist, John Unzima, working for the New Vision was attacked as he covered a protest by boda-boda men in Adjumani town. Speaking to West Nile Press at the time of the attack, Unzima said: “These were even people who knew me that I am a journalist. They pounced on me and beat me up and demanded that I should delete all the photos that I took. Right now I am feeling pain in the head, chest and arms as they hit my head with stones,” John said on phone.
The mob also confiscated his camera and power bank. These attacks undermine the press freedom that every Journalist, media managers, human rights activists desires to have in the world.
During the protest, three people were killed but Unzima was lucky that he was rescued by some of his colleagues and a friend. Unzima was treated for about a week because he sustained severe injuries on the head, arms and legs.
Beaten: New Vision Journalist, John Unzima who was attacked by boda-boda men in Adjumani speaking to the media. Photo by Taibot Marko.
Sadly, it is not only in West Nile Sub-region that journalists rights are abused, faced with brutality in the course of their work. For instance, Charles Etukuri, a New Vision journalist went missing on 12th February 2018 at about 2:00 Pm when he was ‘abducted’ by Internal Security Operatives (ISO) at the Vision Group offices.
Earlier, Arua based Bonfree Technology Television (BTN) journalist, Isaac Bakka disappeared and was held in communicado for months before he was recently dumped into Luzira prisons. The charges and the court where he was tried, remains questionable.
In fight for the Press Freedom, the National Coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists, Robert Ssempala, said about the recent scenarios that: “We wish to note that, most of these actions limiting press freedom and rights of journalists have been on the rise since the end of 2017 and have persisted in 2018 with limited preventive response from government to put a halt at this degenerating situation.
The attacks and threats range from assault, denial of access to news scenes, damage of gadgets, unlawful arrest and detention and abduction. HRNJ-U recommends that the state at all times must respect, promote and uphold people’s rights especially freedom of expression and press freedom.
SSempala added that: “Regrettably, the continued acts of meting violence against journalists, unlawful arrests and detention, curtail freedom of expression and media rights which are fundamental human rights guaranteed under Article 29 of the 1995 Constitution and recognized under other regional and International Human Rights Instruments that Uganda is party to.”
The Police Public Relations Officer for West Nile, Josephine Angucia, who has variously been involved in the quest for press freedoms during meetings, said: “Safety for journalists lies first in individuals. Take charge of your security first, if the situation is dangerous, change tactics and also design ways of bridging bad relationships so that the gap reduces,” Angucia said.
The price: A police detective unties the handcuff from Journalist Andrew Amvesi as Police Public Relations Officer, Josephine Angucia looks on after her intervention. Photo by Warom Felix
Having a free media and independent journalism free from state control; pluralism is a factor that would encourage and sustain democracy.
CASES AT GLANCE IN WEST NILE
- In 2014, reporter with Red Pepper, Andrew Amvesi was arrested on orders of an Officer in Charge Criminal department for Koboko district. The OC CID was allegedly involved in a sexual scandal. He was released after intervention by members of West Nile Press Association without any charge.
- In January 2018, the Director of The West Nile Today Magazine, Osman Draga, was arrested on orders of the Woman MP for Maracha and was charged with Offensive Communication on social media. He was released after spending two nights in the police cells. Draga previously served as Deputy Editor for Arua One Fm. His laptop and phones are still confiscated by police, hence stifling his work.
- Freelance journalist in Adjumani, Amacha Goli, is still battling defamation case at Arua High Court. HRNJ-U is providing legal support for the journalist.