Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a police attack on freelance photojournalist Isaac Kasamani with pepper spray as he was covering yesterday’s arrest of newly defeated opposition presidential candidate Dr. Kizza Besigye.
Police tried to prevent reporters from covering Besigye’s arrest at his home in the Kampala suburb of Kasangati, blocking their passage and firing pepper spray at them. Kasamani, who was working for Agence France Presse, was hit directly in the eyes and was blinded for several hours.
“I had taken position to photograph Besigye being transferred from his car to a waiting police van when suddenly a man in civilian attire sprayed pepper directly into my eyes on the orders of police commander James Kawalya,” Kasamani told RSF. “As a result, I missed taking any picture.”
The leading challenger to Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president for the past 30 years, Besigye was arrested after describing the 20 February election, in which Museveni was declared the winner, as a farce. He had previously been placed under house arrest during the election.
Besigye rejected the result as soon as it was announced, criticizing delays in voting stations, the blocking of social networks, arrests of his supporters and the electoral commission’s lack of independence.
His criticisms were echoed by international observers, who deplored the electoral commission’s “lack of transparency and independence,” voting irregularities and an atmosphere of “intimidation.”
“After these disputed elections, journalist continue to suffer as a result of the political violence prevailing in Uganda,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The attack on Isaac Kasamani and the blocking of access to information by the police are unacceptable. We call on the authorities to immediately stop harassing journalists and let them do their work.”
Uganda is ranked 97th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2015 World Press Freedom Index but, given the many serious violations of freedom of information during both the campaign and the elections, it is unlikely to maintain this position in the 2016 index.