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Uganda: How journalists covering the caucus meeting were mistreated

Journalists set up their cameras at Munyonyo. (Daily Monitor)

By Patience Ahimbisibwe

Media houses, on official request, submitted particulars of their journalists to State House to cover yesterday's National Resistance Movement (NRM) parliamentary caucus meeting.

The journalists on Friday took Covid-19 test at State Lodge, Nakasero, in Kampala. Those who tested negative were declared eligible to cover the crunch ruling party Caucus, preceded by a Central Executive Committee (CEC) sitting.

NRM released a programme indicating that yesterday's Caucus meeting would start at 8am.

However, CEC had unfinished business and, according to officials, used yesterday morning to thrash out details of its choices of flag bearers for the positions of Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the 11th Parliament.

By 7am yesterday, journalists had set off from Kampala to Entebbe to cover the event. On arrival, they were denied access at the main gate to State House Entebbe. And after more than three hours of waiting, their gadgets were checked but phones confiscated.

At the grand gate of State House Entebbe, security confiscated any and all mobile phone handsets, including from MPs, for undisclosed security reason.

The journalists were then ushered in to the gardens near the main gate where food was being served to MPs. When the number of lawmakers in the queue had reduced, some journalists joined to serve food.

Others had just dug in the first bite when some elements of Special Forces, without giving reason, asked them to leave State House premises.

The journalists were chaperoned to exit through the main gate - where hours earlier they had been ushered in respectfully, searched and cleared.

Some, unsure about what was happening, left their video cameras in front of the tent where lawmakers were seated.

Some of the cameras were still running and security, upon detection, scrambled to switch them off.

Once outside State House Entebbe, the presidential guards followed and bellowed orders for the journalists to move farther away, and not assemble near the main gate.

None of the soldiers explained what the problem was, and they declined to release the mobile phone handsets they had taken away from the journalists during their entrance despite pleas.

About an hour later, the Special Forces Command (SFC) soldiers asked the journalists to line up at the main gate afresh and frisked it, without stating what they were looking for, and allowed them inside State House compound again.

By this time, some journalists had lost patience and declined to eat food to which they were invited, but a few did go for a bite. By this time, MPs had shifted to another garden ahead of the reorganisation of other marquees for the Caucus meeting.

Then another soldier relayed instructions from an unnamed official that none of the journalists should leave until and unless under watch by a group of soldiers.

It took another hour or so and the journalists were notified that the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) EC members had finished their delayed meeting, paving the way for the Caucus meeting.

Then a person beckoned journalists to relocate to the Caucus meeting venues only to be blocked by guards.

Mr Kenneth Omona, the principal private secretary to the President, herded journalists out of State House while placating them that "you go [out], it's okay, we shall call you out".

This article was published by the Daily Monitor.

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