IGP Ochola on the spot over media freedoms

Pressure is mounting against the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Martins Okoth-Ochola over his recent remarks encouraging police officers to beat journalists. Media rights activists have joined hands to demand an apology from Ochola days after the Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda criticized the police chief for the statements.

At a press conference in Kampala, journalists under the Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ) joined by their colleagues from the Uganda Editors Guild, an umbrella body that brings together editors said that Ochola’s statements cannot be taken lightly given the fact that police has been the leading violator of media rights.

“Such statements are setting up overzealous police and security agents against media practitioners hiding under the plausible argument of protecting journalists. Therefore, Mr. Ochola should not attack the messenger, but rather move fast to restrain his officers from acting unprofessionally and arbitrarily. The IGP should work to create an environment that promotes mutual cooperation rather than resorting to confrontation. It is the constitutional obligation of the police to ensure that Ugandans and journalists enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Robert Ssempala, the HRNJ-U executive director.

During a joint security press briefing on January 8, Ochola said that he had no regrets for the police’s battering of journalists.

“We have heard complaints that security is targeting the media. On the contrary, it is the media targeting security. It is portraying security as brutal and siding with government. When we tell a journalist, don’t go there and you insist on going where there is danger, we shall beat you for your safety. I have no apology. We shall not apologise but we shall continue helping you not to go where there is danger,” Ochola said.

Ssempala said that Ochola shall be held solely responsible for any attacks on journalists covering elections and will be individually held reliable for inciting violence against journalists by the police and its sister security agencies while in line of duty.

The chairman of the Editors’ Guild, Alex Atuhaire noted that they are documenting all perpetrators of attacks against journalists to institute charges against the individual police officers and other security agencies.

Ssempala, also said that the journalists’ bodies have worked out a rapid response mechanism to respond to emergencies that might befall journalists in the line of duty during the forthcoming general elections.

Ssempala revealed that together with other partners like ACTV which works on rehabilitation and treatment of torture victims, the Uganda Law Society, the Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET), have put up a team with different competencies to respond to emergencies in terms of kidnap, injuries, medication, temporary relocation of journalists faced with imminent danger and in terms of medical support.

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