Ugandan police fired tear gas on Monday to break up a demonstration by journalists protesting alleged abuse by the police, highlighting what some see as an attack on press freedom in the East African country.
The placard-bearing journalists were stopped by armed police while trying to reach the office of the police chief with a petition alleging police brutality.
Police spokesman Fred Enanga said the march was dispersed because of “poor organization” after the group’s leader led more than 10 journalists.
Ugandan security forces are frequently accused of restricting live coverage of demonstrations deemed to be against long-time leader Yoweri Museveni.
In the past week security forces deployed heavily at Makerere University in the capital, Kampala, to quell a student protest over tuition fees. Ugandan security forces were accused of beating up students in their halls of residence, and some journalists were barred from accessing the university.
“Uganda’s armed forces are apparently using disproportionate violence against student protests and journalists trying to cover them,” Oryem Nyeko, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The government should immediately end abusive crackdowns and hold those responsible for any abuses to account in a fair and transparent manner.”
Some local journalists have been injured or attacked as police respond to protest events at Makerere University, according to the Uganda Editors’ Guild. Others have criticized a statement by the first lady, Education Minister Janet Museveni, who suggested the government’s opponents may be paying foreign journalists to write critical stories.
“Are you paying foreign journalists to come here and tell lies about things they know nothing about, just so you can convince the world that your story is the true one?” her statement said.
Uganda’s political scene is increasingly charged as Museveni, in power since 1986, tries to win another term in polls set for 2021. His main challenger is likely to be pop star-turned-lawmaker Bobi Wine, who is urging young people to vote Museveni out of power.
Although Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has support among poor people in urban areas, he faces treason charges that could prevent him from running for president if he is convicted ahead of the election. He denies the charges.