Journalists sue Military Police commander

Lt. Col. Namanya is the officer who commanded military police soldiers to beat up journalists who were covering the former National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu as he delivered a petition on human rights violations to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN agency’s offices in Kololo, Kampala.

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The plaintiffs at court

Lt. Col. Napoleon Namanya, the director of operations in the Military Police could have been spared by the army leadership over his role in the February 17 attack against journalists but the victims are not willing to let him go scot-free.

He has been sued by four journalists; John Cliff Wamala and Geoffrey Twesigye of NTV, Josephine Namakumbi of NBS TV and Shamim Nabakooza from Record TV before the civil division of the High Court, seeking general and exemplary damages from the commander and the Attorney General.

Lt. Col. Namanya is the officer who commanded military police soldiers to beat up journalists who were covering the former National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu as he delivered a petition on human rights violations to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN agency’s offices in Kololo, Kampala.

In their suit, the journalists argue that the conduct of the respondents prevented them from executing their work as expected, and want the court to hold the respondents liable for human rights violations and misconduct of their juniors or subordinates.

In their evidence, the applicants implicate Lt. Col Namanya for commanding what they describe as a violent gang to assault them in the course of their duties.

They contend that they are entitled to media freedom, freedom of expression, human dignity, and other fundamental human rights and freedoms enjoyed by persons in Uganda.

In his affidavit, John Cliff Wamala, says that he woke up motivated and spirited to carry on his work and set out like he always does for any other day conscious of the obligations he dearly holds close to his heart as a member of the fourth estate, whose duty he believes is meant to benefit the general public.

He explains that upon arrival at Kololo where Kyagulanyi was supposed to deliver his petition, some people on his team were granted access as the soldiers reportedly directed journalists to converge in a place they referred to as a safe zone.

“In the nick of time, a military pickup truck with men in security uniforms wielding guns, sticks, and batons emerged from the back of the so-called safe zone line. They dramatically hopped off the trucks and came surging towards us (Journalists). Sensing danger, I and other journalists including the applicants reacted aptly and ran in the opposite direction,” says Wamala.

He explains that despite this, the officers pursued them and beat them with sticks leaving nursing injuries and pain. Wamala, who sustained injuries on the head, appeared at court with stitches.

Wamala says that they want the court to declare that the actions of the military officers to beat and disperse them in the course of their duties contravened their media freedom and freedom of expression and other rights enshrined in the Ugandan constitution.

Through their lawyers led by Eron Kiiza, the journalists also want the government and Lt. Col Namanya to compensate them for the general and exemplary damages as well as costs of the suit. This is the third civil suit being lodged before the High Court about the same matter.

Human rights lawyer, Steven Kalali filed the first case against the government on behalf of the victims. Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) also sued the government and seven soldiers who are said to have assaulted the journalists. The court is yet to fix the cases for hearing.

The Chief of the Defense Forces General David Muhoozi on February 18 issued an apology to the media and the public for the actions of his troops.

This was moments before the army released a statement and images of a hastily convened military court that reportedly tried and sentenced seven of the soldiers to confinement of a period ranging from 62 days to 90 days for conduct that is prejudicial to the image of the force.

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