Uganda security personnel beat journalists covering rights abuse petition

SENSITIVE MATERIAL. THIS IMAGE MAY OFFEND OR DISTURB Paul Murungi, a journalist working with The New Vision newspaper is seen at their offices after he was injured following an attack by security officials, outside the United Nations Human Rights offices while on reporting duty, in Kampala, Uganda February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Ugandan military and police officers beat and seriously injured journalists on Wednesday as they covered the delivery of a petition about human rights violations to a United Nations office, a rights group said.

The security personnel assaulted the journalists as they covered opposition leader and pop star Bobi Wine, who was petitioning the local U.N. human rights office to investigate reported incidents of rights violations.

Police said security personnel had dispersed "uncontrolled crowds" outside the U.N. office that had formed as Wine delivered the petition.

"Unfortunately, a few people sustained injuries including journalists. We have opened an establish the circumstances under which the victims were injured," a police statement said.

At least 20 journalists were hurt in the attack, with at least four sustaining deep cuts on the head that bled profusely, Stephen Bwire, Secretary General of Uganda Journalists Union, told Reuters.

"We condemn this brutal, barbaric and heinous act," Bwire said. "The journalists were doing their duty and they were clearly identifiable as journalists, they were not hostile, they were politely covering the events."

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, lost last month's presidential election to incumbent Yoweri Museveni who has ruled Uganda since 1986.

He rejected the results and has filed a court case seeking annulment of the poll, which he says was rigged.

The 39-year-old singer has a large following among young people who are drawn by his youthful energy and music that he sometimes uses to criticise government.

To try to stem his growing popularity, authorities have cracked down on his supporters, using detentions, beatings and others tactics.

At least 54 people were killed in November as security personnel battled to quell protests that broke out after Wine was detained while on a campaign trail.

"Today we went to the @UNHumanRights office in Kampala to deliver a petition against the continuing abductions, torture and murder of our supporters," Wine tweeted on Wednesday. He accompanied the tweet with two images of some of the journalists who were assaulted.

One had a bleeding gash on the head while another also bled from the head.

Journalists have increasingly been targeted by security personnel. Bwire said they had documented at least 50 journalists who had been injured by security personnel during the election period, including one who was killed.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa and Angus MacSwan)

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