Uganda police detain journalists protesting rights violations

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Eight Ugandan journalists were detained on Monday as they marched in the capital Kampala to protest what they said were police abuses, including beatings and detentions, during coverage of student protests last month, a rights group official said.

The alleged abuses took place for several days starting on Oct. 22 after students at Uganda’s largest public university, Makerere, staged protests against planned fee increases.

A group of journalists started to march toward the headquarters of police where they intended to deliver a petition to the head of police, but were instead intercepted.

Flavia Diana Nandudu, a programs officer at Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U), told Reuters eight journalists were arrested but were released several hours later.

“We wanted to demand from police leadership that they parade and prosecute police officers who are involved in assaulting journalists,” Nandudu said.

Police spokesman Patrick Onyango said the journalists had been released but refused to explain why they had been arrested.

The government of President Yoweri Museveni has over the years been accused by rights groups of rampant rights violations including violent crackdowns on opposition activists and intimidation of journalists.

In power since 1986, Museveni, 75, is widely expected to stand at the next polls in 2021 and is seen facing strong opposition from pop star-turned-politician Bobi Wine.

New York-based rights body Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday accused the government of using disproportionate force in quelling the protests and also condemned attacks on journalists.

“The Ugandan government should urgently carry out fair and transparent investigations and hold accountable security forces who have used excessive force,” HRW said.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema