East Africa: journalists beaten in Kenya and Uganda, exiled Somali journalist dies
Last week police officers in Kenya assaulted three reporters and detained one. This week Ugandan police attacked two journalists in separate incidents outside of police stations. Journalist community says the impunity in Eastern Africa must come to an end.
Thursday, 22 March 2012, by HRH London, based on Committee to Protect Journalists pess releases.
Hostile actions against journalists still occur on a daily basis in Eastern Africa. The violence against independent media is often connected with politics or politicians unwilling to be criticised.
Ugandan police beat two journalists
As the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports, this week Ugandan police officers beat two journalists, Edward Echwalu and Anatoli Luswata, who were trying to cover the arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye at Kira Road Police Station in the country’s capital Kampala.
Using batons and a rifle butt, four officers repeatedly beat Echwalu, a photographer for Reuters and the independent weekly Observer, around 4:40 p.m. outside Kira Road Police Station where Besigye was detained.
When Echwalu, left, tried to explain to the police officers that he was covering the event, they started to beat him. The beating continued until opposition parliamentary members arrived on the scene.
Echwalu said he attempted to report the incident to the police station immediately afterwards, but police did not allow him to enter. Bruised on his right arm and shoulder, Echwalu went to Kampala Hospital for treatment, he told CPJ.
Luswata, a reporter for the private weekly Eddobozi, also covering Besigye’s arrest, was beaten by police outside the gate of Kampala's Central Police Station. Police officers beat Luswata on his back with batons, local journalists told CPJ. In their opinion, police attacked Luswata because he was the first to arrive at the scene and there were no other reporters to cover the incident.
"Covering opposition party issues is not a crime. Ugandan police must stop arbitrarily attacking journalists simply for doing their job. Authorities must immediately identify the officers who carried out these attacks and take disciplinary measures", said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes.
According to CPJ research, police and security agents were responsible for at least 21 cases of physical attacks against journalists during the country's 2011 election year.
Three journalists assaulted in Kenya
A similar case happened in Kenya. At least 10 police officers in plain clothes surrounded Suleiman Mbatiah, a reporter for the Daily Nation, after he took photographs of an undercover traffic operation in the western town of Nakuru on 13 March.
"They came behind me while I was taking photos and grabbed my camera. I thought they were thieves", Mbatiah told CPJ.
The journalist said the men roughed him up, injuring his left arm, damaged his camera, and took him in a police van to the station, where they detained him for about nine hours. The police accused him of assaulting and obstructing police officers, resisting arrest, and crossing a highway in an illegal area.
Nakuru police chief Johnston Ipara told CPJ that Mbatiah was accused of assaulting a police officer after the officer grabbed the journalist's camera, and denied that Mbatiah was assaulted. While not formally charged, the journalist is expected to be arraigned in court this week in connection with the case, Mbatiah told CPJ.
Two journalists who witnessed the arrest, James Gitau with the Kenya News Agency and Sam Kimani of Radio Mwananchi and Kameme FM, said the police did assault Mbatiah and also said they had been roughed up and threatened with arrest. "They threatened to arrest us after we inquired why they had arrested Mbatiah", Gitau told CPJ.
Gitau and Kimani went to Nakuru's Central Police Station to demand Mbatiah's release, and he was released later that evening. Journalists in Nakuru are staging a media blackout on police coverage to protest the attack, Kimani said.
Exiled Somali journalist dies in Nairobi
Veteran Somali radio journalist Hassan Mohamed, below, 45, died on 20 March in Eastleigh, a Nairobi suburb. He had fled Mogadishu in 2010, having been threatened, kidnapped, and shot twice.
Relentlessly supported by Somali colleagues and friends, in Kenya Hassan struggled to sustain himself and survive worsening diabetes-related ailments. His death highlights the plight of exiled journalists in East Africa, says María Salazar-Ferro, CPJ’s Impunity Campaign and Journalist Assistance Program coordinator.
Hassan was a reporter, producer, and librarian at Somalia's first independent broadcaster, founded in 1999 – HornAfrik, a radio station that he kept on the air even after senior staffers fled the country. To the Mogadishu public, he was most famous for his radio dramas – morality plays about local society.
Hassan's comical yet poignant dramas were perhaps one of the reasons why the Islamic militants, Al-Shabaab, targeted him. HornAfrik, then one of main private broadcasters in Somalia was, like other stations, blacklisted by Al-Shabaab as a "pro-government" outlet.
In December 2009 Hassan was shot in the hand and back as he left the radio station, moments after refusing to air a message from religious figures with alleged ties to Al-Shabaab. In 2010 he spent over four months recovering from a gunshot wound to the leg, after he was caught while on assignment in street crossfire. Later that year, Al-Shabaab insurgents raided the HornAfrik offices, tied and blindfolded Hassan and other staffers, and burned the station's archives.
Again, Hassan survived, but HornAfrik was forced off the air. As rumors spread following the attack that HornAfrik was planning a comeback, Hassan began receiving repeated and distressing telephone death threats. At that point, fearing for his life, he fled to Nairobi.
During the trip Hassan lost everything (including his papers and little savings) off a moving truck along the way. Once in Kenya, penniless and paperless, Hassan was unable to receive any kind of official assistance - even for his diabetes, which rapidly progressed. Hassan's health worsened with lack of medical attention, improper diet, and stress.
In 2011 Hassan was hospitalized several times with different kinds of diabetes complications, and he eventually lost a leg. In 2012 he spent several weeks in a coma, though he regained consciousness before passing away.
By CPJ's count, in the past decade, 33 percent of journalists forced into exile worldwide came from East Africa. In the last year alone, more than 16 journalists have fled Somalia. The vast majority live in very difficult conditions in Eastleigh – unable to work and meet basic needs, such as medical care; far from their families; in a legal and professional limbo.
HRH London, based on Committee to Protect Journalists pess releases.