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Police officer Mwesigye convicted of assaulting journalist

Former Old Kampala district police commander (DPC) Joram Mwesigye has been convicted for a 2015 incident in which he was found guilty of assaulting former WBS TV journalist Andrew Lwanga.

For causing bodily harm, Buganda Road Grade One Magistrate Kamasanyu Gladys has fined Mwesigye Shs 1 million and ordered to pay Shs 5 million in compensation to Lwanga who now moves with a damaged spine and with the aid of crutches.

Kamasanyu said Mwesigye must pay the money within 30 days from the date of judgement or be jailed for a period of one year.

Joram Mwesigye in court today

On the second account, the magistrate acquitted Mwesigye, arguing that the evidence submitted did not show or prove that it was Mwesigye who damaged the journalist’s camera. She also argued that the camera belonged to the TV station and not the journalist and as such can’t be compensated for the damage caused.

Mwesigye was charged with three counts including assault, occasioning bodily harm and malicious damage of property. Court heard that on January 12, 2015 at Florida Bar and Guest House along Namirembe road in Kampala, Mwesigye brutally assaulted Lwanga and one Joseph Ssetimba, then working for Bukedde Television.
 
Lwanga was covering a protest march against unemployment in Kampala by the Unemployed Youths of Uganda (UYU) when the police officer repeatedly hit him with a baton on his shoulders and head until he fell down. The officer kicked him on his back, damaging his spine.
 
Lwanga has since undergone surgery in South Africa to try to repair his spinal cord, and is awaiting a second operation.

Mwesigye (L) looks at Grade One Magistrate Kamasanyu Gladys as she delivers the ruling. Photos: Nicholas Bamulanzeki

As the youths attempted to march from JEEMA headquarters in Mengo towards Naguru to petition the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, Mwesigye and four other policemen blocked them at Bakuli road junction around clobbering several of them.

In the process, Mwesigye dramatically fell on his belly -with Lwanga filming the incident. This seems to have annoyed the DPC as he turned on the journalist clobbering him with a long electric cable.

The UYU youths attempted to gather again and tried to address the journalists again. All this while Lwanga and other journalists were covering the unfolding event. Mwesigye and his team again pounced - this time hitting Lwanga with a baton until he fell down, unconscious. Mwesigye and his colleagues drove him first to Old Kampala Police Station and then later to Nsambya hospital.

In response to today's court ruling Abdullahi Halakhe, Amnesty International's East Africa Researcher, says the ruling is a rare victory for freedom of the press in Uganda.

Halakhe notes that it sends "a clear message that attacks on journalists must never be accepted or tolerated under any circumstances."
 
He says the ruling is an assurance to people working in the media that "the courts are watching; willing and ready to uphold their rights."