UPDF admits to battering journalists, asks to settle case out of court

Army officers descend on journalists earlier in February

Army officers descend on journalists earlier in February

The Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) has asked the High court in Kampala to allow them to settle out of court a case in which they were sued over battering journalists earlier this year.

City lawyer Steven Kalali sued the government on behalf of journalists for battering several journalists on February 22, 2021, who'd gone to cover National Unity Platform former presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi as he delivered a petition to the United Nations High Commission in Kololo challenging gross human rights violations in the country. 

According to Kalali, on the fateful day, military police officers descended on journalists who were performing their lawful duties and started beating them indiscriminately leaving many of them with injuries. He named Henry Ssekanjako and Timothy Murungi from Vision Group, Cliff Wamala from NTV, and Josephine Namakumbi from NBS TV as some of the journalists who were injured by the officers.

As such, Kalali noted that previously the agents of government have violated the constitutional articles guaranteeing freedom of the press and also infringed on the journalist’s right to practice their profession.

Kalali thus asked court to issue orders restraining government security agencies permanently from acting with impunity, malice and interfering with the rights of all media houses and journalists in the peaceful pursuit of their work as well as an order for damages.

However, on Tuesday, the government which was being represented by state attorney Brian Musota asked to be allowed to settle the matter out of court saying there is a reconciliation process between the two parties.  

Musota made his submission while appearing before the assistant registrar of High court Civil Division Agnes Alum who adjourned the case to June 14, 2021, on behalf of the trial judge Boniface Wamala who was away attending a workshop.

The state attorney also shared with Kalali the affidavit sworn by the chief of legal services in UPDF, Brigadier Godard Busingye in which the army confirms the reconciliation process including having had a football match with journalists to mend the relations.

“That I know the UPDF on 15th April 2021 in a bid to mend its relationship with the media held its inaugural sports competition at Phillip Omondi stadium in Lugogo Kampala as a gesture of its commitment to the agreed objective of improving working relationship between the defense forces and the media fraternity," reads the affidavit in part.

The affidavit also admits that their officers went beyond their mandate and without consent from the strategic army leadership handled some journalists in a manner that is not authorized by the leadership. Despite this, the associate professor says that court needs to disallow Kalali's case such that the reconciliation process that the parties have already commenced to continue.

“That I know whereas the actions of our errant officers are regrettable, they cannot be reversed and I would pray that in light of the commitment of the UPDF to improve, this honorable court decides this case with a degree of restraint," reads the affidavit.

Adding that “in the interest of justice this application be disallowed to encourage the reconciliation process that the parties have already commenced continue."

Evidence before court shows that the army admits all the illegalities and allegations levied against it by Kalali and to prove this, they say the errant officers have since been apprehended and couldn't let such impunity go unpunished because they strongly condemn the beating journalists.

"That I know the errant officers breached the UPDF Act of 2005 and were subsequently arrested, charged convicted and sentenced by the UPDF's unit disciplinary committee," says Busingye's affidavit in part.

But the petitioner, Kalali has vowed not to go for the reconciliation process saying that such actions have been rampant and he needs court to make a pronunciation on them.

"Seemingly, me as a human rights activist, I don’t agree with that position and it is the reason why I decided to come to court because you realise since those events happened, most of you journalists had sat back. It could have been atoned to aspects of fear at maybe workplaces and so on. Some of them the information we got could be that they were compensated with some little sums of money. But no money can compensate for your life. So we had to stand firm and come to court and I can assure you that I will wait to get a court verdict in regard to the illegal and unlawful acts by these UPDF officials because they have been happening since 2016," Kalali said. 

Kalali’s case was the first to be lodged before the High court in relation to beating of journalists in Kololo and so far two other cases challenging the same issue have since been filed. They include one filed by the Uganda Journalists Association against the government and seven soldiers who are said to have assaulted the journalists and another filed by the victims of this incident. 

These last two cases are fixed for hearing on May 17.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd