Members of the parliamentary defence committee were on Wednesday left amused after the state minister for defence, Colonel Charles Engola told them that videos and photos of the army beating journalists during the free Bobi Wine protests were doctored by unknown people.
On August 21, a group of journalists including Reuters’ James Akena, Ronald Ggaliwango, Juma Kirya(NTV) and Alfred Ochwo(Observer) among others were beaten before being arrested by personnel from the UPDF while covering Bobi Wine protests in the city centre.
In one incident along Nakivubo Mews, photojournalist Akena was badly flogged by the military and despite his efforts to put his arms up as a sign of surrendering, the soldiers continued beating and kicking him.
On Wednesday, the committee chaired by Amolatar Woman MP Doreen Amule tasked the ministry of defence to explain themselves on the videos and photos that recently made rounds depicting them brutalising journalists.
“As generals, we need to pick on what to utilise from the media but not everything written by media. For example that person holding a stick, it (video) was from some West African country. You can’t say it was UPDF,”Col.Engola told parliament attracting a backlash from the members of the committee.
The committee chairperson told the junior minister and his team from the ministry of defence that the video and photos were not fake, noting that they were aired by all media houses in the country, a thing she said raises concern over safety of journalists.
“There is a video clip shown by all media houses of UPDF officers beating journalists but may be it has not reached your desk. How far with disciplining these officers,”Amule questioned.
However, in response, the state minister for defence said there is need to look at the said pictures and videos before any action is taken.
“What I request is to give us the pictures and everything so we can go and follow up. Media is important to us. We must protect them because their work is important to us. We shall follow up with investigations and make arrests,” he noted.
However, the response was not convincing enough attracting a bitter exchange from MPs Theodore Ssekikubo and Muwanga Kivumbi on one side against Col.Engola.
The legislators said they were amused by the submissions of the minister.
“It is appalling for minister to start saying that beating of journalists was photo -shopped. Photos were taken and journalists’ names are known,”Ssekikubo said.
The MPs added that from the officers who manned the operation the operation, their commander and can be positively identified to identify his juniors involved in brutalising journalists.
“You can’t ask us to give you names,”Ssekikubo added.
The minister however noted that journalists do a great job for the country, adding that the perpetuators of the brutality against the media would be investigated and brought to book.
President Museveni recently told an NRM caucus meeting at State House Entebbe, that according to a brief he received from security, photojournalist, James Akena was mistaken for a petty thief before being pounced on and beaten.